Praying for those who have wronged us.
Read Acts 7:54-60
"Lord, do not hold this sin against them!"
How do we respond when we have been wronged? Stephen had every reason to be bitter. Stephen had been chosen to be one of the leaders in the growing Church in Jerusalem. When the church became embroiled in a conflict that required greater oversight in the daily distribution of food, Stephen was one of seven men chosen to provide leadership and administrative management of their benevolence program (Acts 6:1-7). However, he was more than just a gifted administrator; the Holy Spirit also empowered him to proclaim the gospel in the Synagogue with wisdom and power (Acts 6:8-15). Yet, his preaching of the gospel of Christ stirred the resentment of the religious leaders who saw the newly forming Christians as a threat to their power and religious establishment. As a result, they arrested Stephen on trumped-up charges and brought him before the Council. When the High Priest provided Stephen the opportunity to offer his defense, Stephen instead used the occasion to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Rather than being timid because of fear, he boldly outlined the redemptive plan of God revealed in the Old Testament and how Israel had continually rebelled against him. The message ended with Stephen confronting these religious leaders with their rebellious attitude and rejection of God's redemptive plan (7:51-53).
The response of the religious aristocracy was as swift as it was predictable. Filled with bitterness and rage, they dragged him out of the city and began to cast stones at him. Inflamed by guilt, their only intent was to silence this preacher by stoning him to death. However, it is here that the story takes an unexpected turn. As they were throwing the stones that would batter Stephen's body until his life was snuffed out, Stephen does the unthinkable. Under such a vicious onslaught, we would expect Stephen to more loudly proclaim their judgment. We would expect Stephen to shout his innocence and their guilt and angrily beseech God to rain down his judgment.
Instead, Stephen prays for their salvation. In his last breath, as the stones crash against his body, Stephen prays, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." In a remarkable display of grace, Stephen is more concerned about their spiritual plight than he is his own life. In his prayer, Stephen expresses both his dire they his executioners would experience God's grace, as well as his firm belief that even those who are in complete rebellion against God are still not beyond God's saving ability. This would be proven to be true, for one of the individuals participating that day and giving approval to Stephen's death was a young man named Saul (vs. 58). Saul, whose name would be later changed to Paul, would experience God's forgiveness and become one of the church's greatest theologians.
When hostilities arise, we naturally want vindication. We want our enemies silenced and punished for their mistreatment of us, yet this example of Stephen points us in a different direction. In Stephen's prayer, we find the expression of a genuine follower of Christ, for Christ himself prayed the same prayer for his executioners (Luke 23:34). Rather than seeking revenge and retribution, we should pray for the salvation of those that reject and mistreat us. When we have suffered a perceived wrong, rather than trying to defend our honor and pursue our interests, pray for God's grace and mercy to be realized in their lives. Instead of focusing upon the wrong they have done against us, pray that they would experience God's grace and then demonstrate that grace in your actions.