Passage: Acts 6:7-15; 7:54-8:3
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
Gospel movements advance as God works through hardship. We need to come to grips, then, with the fact that we will face hardships. The early church faced both internal and external hardships, a reality well illustrated in Acts 6-7 by the life and death of Stephen. Though hardships can come from many different sources, we need to be prepared for them, like the early church was.
We also need to recognize what can result from hardship. Hardship can grow the church’s public witness, can make us more personally responsive to the gospel, and can even stimulate the geographical spread of the gospel. In Acts 8:1-2, for example, it was persecution that led to the “scattering” of church, and thus, the gospel message, into Judea and Samaria.
Finally, we need to grasp the resources we have for facing hardship together. God has given us his Holy Spirit, who reminds us of God’s provision, power, and character. Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, saw Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (7:55), which enabled him to endure at the hour of his greatest trial. God has also given us his word, which reminds us of the story of his advancing kingdom and points us to Jesus, our Lord and redeemer. Lastly, God has given us his people, who give us strength and joy in hardship. Hardship is painful, but we can rejoice in knowing that God’s kingdom advances still!
- The Reality of Hardship (6:7-15)
- The Result of Hardship (7:54-8:3)
- The Resources for Hardship (7:55-56)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage (Acts 6:7-15; 7:54-8:3)
The Reality of Hardship (6:7-15)
Q) INTRO QUESTION: Before Covid, had you ever been a part of a church (or other community) that faced a collective hardship together? What was it like? How did the group grow (or not grow)?
Q) Re-read Acts 6:7-8. What does this verse tell us about what was happening in the early church, and in Stephen’s own life, at the time he began to experience opposition? AND Have you ever experienced hardship that seemed to come at a time when everything was going well in your life? What effect did that have on you and your faith?
Q) Re-read Acts 6:9-15. What was the cause of Stephen’s persecution? How was his persecution similar to Jesus’ experience?
Q) What can the church do to better prepare people for the reality of facing hardships?
The Result of Hardship (7:54-8:3)
Q) Re-Read Acts 7:54-60, which comes immediately after Stephen’s speech earlier in Acts 7. What adjectives would you use to describe Stephen’s final witness as he was being stoned?
Q) In the sermon, Joe said that experiencing hardship often results in increased opportunities to witness publicly to Jesus and the gospel. Have you ever experienced a time when your own hardship gave you opportunities to speak more openly about Jesus and his work in your life? Is there a way in which Covid is giving you a greater opportunity to openly speak about the gospel?
Q) Another common result of hardship is the geographical spread of the gospel. Read Acts 1:8, then Acts 8:1. What do these two verses together suggest about how God works to spread the gospel?
Q) Can you think of any ways that a hardship you’re experiencing might be compelling you to take the gospel to new places, people, or contexts? What about for NSCBC as a whole? Are there new places, or groups of people who Covid might be compelling us to take the gospel to?
The Resources for Hardship (7:55-56)
Q) Re-read Acts 7:54-56. What did the Holy Spirit enable Stephen to see? How did this empower him to face his martyrdom?
Q) How might grasping the authority and reign of Jesus (“the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”) help you to face a current or future hardship of yours?
Q) Imagine that you’re talking to a friend of yours who is not a Christian. They describe the way that Covid has upended so many of their plans, and they lament the way that everything “feels like it’s spiraling out of control.” Based on the truths of this passage, how might you respond to them?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and
outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.