Last time we pointed out that faith is dependent on hearing the word of God. I cannot muster faith for an idea of my own that I want to bring into being. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
At the same time, it’s possible for God to speak and faith is not created. Perhaps there is disobedience in a life, or someone is entrenched in unbelief; the heart is hard. God is speaking and trying to get through, but I simply refuse to hear.
But if a heart can be hardened in unbelief it’s also possible to cultivate the soil of the heart so that faith can thrive. Yes, I know, God deals to each one “a measure of faith” and we must always be careful not to try to function beyond that measure (Rom. 12.3). But this does not mean we are forever limited to the measure we now have. Faith can grow.
And, like certain plants, it seems to grow better in company. Paul spoke of “the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4.13)—that is, the mutual inspiration of faith among the members of the body of Christ that grows and increases till ultimately it enables the expression of “a perfect Man.” He commended the Thessalonian saints because the atmosphere of unity and love in their midst created healthy habitat for faith to grow (2 Thes. 1.3). He encouraged the Philippians to continue to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1.27). He also wrote Timothy that those who desire to serve their brethren “purchase to themselves a good ‘step upward,’ and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3.13).
What do all of these passages of Scripture have in common? They all reveal the kind of habitat faith thrives in. Love. “…Faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5.6). It’s the assembly that is nurturing love in their midst that discovers, lo and behold, plants of faith thriving. It’s those who are of one mind and are standing fast in one spirit who are better provisioned to strive for the faith of the Gospel. It’s the assembly that is edifying one another in love that is coming together unto the unity of the faith, where all the measures of faith are working together in a powerful manifestation of the Son of God.
And—let’s look at this one more fully—it is the one who earnestly desires to serve his brethren that taps into a great boldness of faith.
For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 3.13).
As I thought about this verse, Stephen came to mind. There had been a murmuring in the early church over the daily distribution to widows. Certain ones were being neglected. The apostles didn’t feel it would be right for them to leave the service of the word of God and prayer to attend to this. “It is not meet for us to leave the word of God and wait on tables” (Acts 6.2). So they selected seven men to do this. Stephen was one of them.
The Greek word translated wait on comes from the same root as the word deacon. It could read, if there were such a verb, “It is not right for us to leave the word of God and deacon tables.” So the seven men were to fulfill a deacon kind of ministry.
The passage in Timothy talks of those who “use the office of a deacon well.” But the original Greek doesn’t have the same emphasis on ecclesiastical taxonomy—bishop, deacon—common to the King James Version. In fact the word office is entirely lacking in the original Greek; it should read more like, “they that have deaconed well,” or simply, “served well…”
Stephen was a deacon, then—a server. We’re not being introduced to an office here; we’re being introduced to an attitude—Stephen’s love for the family of God, and his humility, his earnest desire to serve them. It’s this I am sure that accounts for what we read about him. He was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6.5). He was “full of faith and power” (6.8). Stephen’s faith was really working. Why? It was “faith that worketh by love.” It wasn’t his own importance Stephen had in mind, or his own benefit. It was the benefit of others. God, it seems, is more than willing to lavish faith on those who want it for the sake of others.
Stephen’s servant heart gained him great boldness in the faith, as we find in Chapter Seven.
…And good degree as well—a good “step upward”—even to the throne of Christ.
I am reminded of yet another passage that shows us faith in operation. Among the gifts of the Spirit Paul mentions “to another, faith by the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12.9).” A gift of faith? Yes, it seems so. And sadly all too often the one who has been granted this gift looks down on his brethren who just don’t seem to have the bold faith he has. He has failed to recognize that the gift doesn’t belong to him. It has been given him for the profit of all (1 Cor. 12.7). It was given to him on behalf of others.
As with all the gifts: they are the heritage of all; the one who has received the gift is just the minister, the server, the deacon, the steward of that gift. It actually belongs to the others. “As every man hath received the gift even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pt. 4.10).
…Lord, search our hearts. Oh, how deeply we realize our deep need for faith in this hour… that we need to be earnestly contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). But even as we consider this exhortation we are reminded that just a few verses later, as Jude calls us to build up ourselves on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, he urges us to keep ourselves in the love of God…