Remembering Stephen

This week the church calendar celebrated Stephen, one of the pioneer deacons of the church from Acts 6 and the first martyr of the Christian faith.
Since Stephen, Christians have suffered martyrdom through every generation in countless numbers. The possibility of dying for your faith in Christ is a basic understanding of what it means to be a Christ follower. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity found that about 800,000 Christians were killed worldwide in the decade between 2011 and 2020. While those numbers are staggering, if you insist on seeing things positively, then they were significantly lower than those of the preceding decade placed at about 1.6 million. Earlier generations had it no easier.
Some Christians have paid the ultimate price while in active Christian service and proclamation. Others have paid it passively, having been put in the line of fire in other situations tangential to their faith. They all follow in the long line behind Stephen in his exemplary courage.
As a youth, I remember admiring (even sometimes desiring) martyrdom. The older I get on this road of faith, the more I realize the profundity of Paul’s words in Philippians 1, “As for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Generally speaking, Christians in more convenient economies and societies show a greater tendency for fear of suffering or death for their faith. However, there is a correlation between willingness to die for one’s faith and eagerness to live wholeheartedly for it. Unless one would die for their faith, they would hardly live totally for it. Stephen may not only challenge those who face death for the sake of Christ. He challenges us also, who face life for the sake of Christ.
To live is Christ and to die is gain.

Donald Nwankwo
The Light of Christ Anglican Church
Denver, Colorado