Full Steam Ahead!

The Five-Fold Fullness God Has for You in the New Year

A Study of Acts 6-7

If you want a little peace and quiet in Nashville, you might spend an afternoon at Radnor Lake. It was created about a hundred years ago by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company as a reservoir for their steam locomotives. It took about a million gallons of water in Nashville every day to keep trains operating. So the L&N they dammed Otter Creek and formed the lake. The waters were piped to the railroad yards and into the boilers of these locomotives. The engineers built fires in the fireboxes of the trains and produced the steam needed for locomotion.

My message is Full Steam Ahead. We’re getting ready to barrel into a new year, and we need to plow into it full steam ahead, filled to the brim with living water from the limitless lakes of God’s resources. I want to show you five of those lakes. God has a five-fold fullness for us.

We learn about this by studying the biblical character of Stephen in the book of Acts. In Acts 6, the growing church in Jerusalem needed help in the ministry of food distribution to widows. The apostles gathered people together and this is what they said in Acts 6:3:

“Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and [full of] wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and [full] of the Holy Spirit… [and six others]. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and [full of] power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….

Stephen was seized and hauled before the Jewish Ruling Council. In defending himself and presenting the Gospel, Stephen gives the longest sermon recorded in Acts.

In these passages, the word “full” is used to describe Stephen—eight times. There’s no one else described like this in the entire Bible. This is unique in Scripture. Stephen was said to be full of supernatural resources in five different dimensions of his life. There was a five-fold fulness to him.

  • We’re told three times that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit.
  • We’re also told he was full of wisdom.
  • We’re told he was full of grace.
  • We’re told he was full of power.
  • We’re told that he was full of faith.

In other words, Stephen had five different rivers running into his life and filling him to the brim. I can find no other person in all the Bible described like this—and we too need to open the dikes and be filled from these five divine lakes.

Be Filled With the Spirit

Three times we’re told Stephen was filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is described in the Bible like water. Jesus said in John 7:38, “Whoever believers in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this He meant the Holy, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive on the Day of Pentecost.

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It means to be filled with Jesus as with a liquid. Jesus came to earth as an incarnate human being—both God and man—but as such he was localized to one place at one time. When He returned to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit onto the church to dwell within us and, if I could extend our Lord’s metaphor, the Holy Spirit is like liquid Jesus. The Spirit is the way the Lord Jesus comes to live within us. When you are filled with the Spirit it’s like being filled with liquid Jesus.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit simply means your whole personality is filled with and controlled by and empowered by Jesus.

How does this happen? It’s a habit pattern. We acquiesce, we ask, and we affirm. We acquiesce and allow Jesus to have control of every aspect of our lives; we ask daily to be filled with the Spirit; and we affirm that fullness by faith. I go through this process every morning—allow, ask, and affirm. The Bible says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Be Filled with Wisdom

Stephen was also filled with wisdom. The apostles said, “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom.” So they choose Stephen. I know where Stephen got his wisdom. He got it from studying the Scriptures, which, in his day, meant the Old Testament. Read his sermon in Acts 7. In that one message, Stephen took the Jewish Sanhedrin on a tour of Old Testament Jewish and Messianic history. You can read the entire story of the Old Testament in this one chapter—Acts 7. This was a man who knew his Scripture and He also understood who Jesus was and how Jesus fulfilled the words of the Old Testament.

Stephen was Greek-speaking, a Hellenistic Jew, and he quoted from the Greek version of the Old Testament, but he had so much Scripture memorized he was able to snatch it out of thin air, and he knew how it all fitted together.

The book of Ephesians talks about “the water of the Word” of God. Think of the Bible is liquid wisdom, which God wants to pour into your mind as you study it daily.

We absolutely must have biblical literacy and a Christian worldview. We cannot be naïve about what’s happening to our society. For example, consider the atheistic neo-Marxist socialism that has swallowed up journalism and the media and our institutions of higher learning. They’re pumping this into the textbooks our children read and the cartoons our children watch. As Christians, we must have solid biblical literacy and be able to biblically evaluate these trends. (I’ve personally found a lot of help in thinking through these issues a website called breakpoint.org, which is sponsored by the Charles Colson Center for Christian Worldview. My friend, Jeremiah Johnston, is president of The Christian Thinkers Society, and these folks are brilliantly biblical and know how to help us develop a Christian and a biblical worldview). Both in our personal Bible study and in our ability to evaluate the current culture, we’ve got to be filled with wisdom.

Being filled with wisdom means you have a growing understanding of the Bible and the way the Bible intersects with daily life in a fallen world.

Be Filled with Grace

Third, Stephen was filled with grace. I’ve wracked my brain trying to probe this phrase. It’s only used three times in the Bible. Here, about Stephen. And in John 1:14, about Jesus Himself: “And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace….”

It’s also used a third in Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The New Living Translation says: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive, so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

In light of this, I went back and studied Stephen’s words in the book of Acts. Look at verses 8ff:

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia—who began to argue with Stephen. But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.

Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brough him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently to Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Here he was in a confrontational situation, but the expression on his face was not acrimony, animosity, hatred, outrage, or anything like that. They had asked him a confrontational yes or no question, but such questions rarely can be answered with yes or no.

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?”

To this he replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham…”

Stephen took them on a tour of the Old Testament and he spoke for a long time. Finally—and this is my speculation—he got more and more heckling and jeers and hatred from his listeners, and so he said in verse 51:

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered Him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

That’s what it means to be full of grace. To speak to culture without hatred or hostility. Stephen wasn’t afraid to speak truth to culture, but he did it not to be argumentative but to redemptive.

Being full of grace means, among other things, we aren’t afraid to speak truth to culture, but we do it not to be belligerent but to be redemptive.

Be Filled with Power

Fourth, we must be filled with power. As followers of Christ, we’re the most powerful people in this world. I’m not saying that bravado, and when people look at us they may miss the true extent of our power. In fact, we might miss it ourselves. But it’s the power of the cross. Look at the way chapter 8 begins: And Saul approved of their killing him.

This was Saul of Tarsus, who was evidently Luke’s source. He was a brilliant young student of Gamaliel, who took it all in and heard every word. He probably took notes. He wasn’t a member of the Ruling Council, but he was an aide, and he totally approved of killing Stephen and kept the robes of those who threw the stones.

But he never forget Stephen’s words. He never forgot the angelic strength of Stephen’s face. He never forgot how Stephen died. And in the years to come, Saul of Tarsus would become the man who would do what Stephen was unable to do—take the Gospel to the world.

The Scottish preacher, Alexander Whyte, in his classic studies of biblical characters, says that Stephen could have been and probably would have been the apostle Paul. Stephen’s brilliance, sterling character, courage set him apart and he could have become the world’s greatest evangelist. But the great providential irony is that Stephen’s death triggered a chain of events that brought the actual apostle Paul into being. Young Saul of Tarsus was there along the edges of the Sanhedrin listening, boiling in anger, keeping the cloaks of those who stoned and murdered the godly Stephen, and Saul approved of the violence.

Being full of power means that we’re doing far more good then we know, and the Lord is using us in greater ways than we realize.

Be Filled with Faith

Finally, we’re told Stephen was full of faith. Faith is liquid trust. Jeremiah said those who trust in Lord like trees planted by rivers of water. When our roots are grounded in Christ and dipping into the water of Scripture, the ability to trust the Lord flows into us like a liquid.

This week I heard the testimony of a woman named Karen Short, whose husband, John, had been arrested in North Korea. This incident happened back in 2014. This couple has a Christian publishing ministry in Hong Kong, and John had one of his Gospel tracts translated into Korean, While visit North Korea he gave some out. Authorities came to his hotel and arrested him. Karen received a call from Beijing telling her the news.

She said: “I knew the Lord was in control. I didn’t go into all the ‘what-ifs.’ I simply trusted the Lord with it all.” The next two weeks were full of the things that happen to you in a crisis. She said, “I focused on the most important matters of each day.” Two weeks later John was released and deported from North Korea. But how do you describe someone who says, “I knew the Lord was in control I didn’t go into all the ‘what-ifs.’ I simply trusted the Lord with it all”?

Being full of faith is remembering the Lord is in control so you don’t have to go into all the what-ifs. You simply learn to trust the Lord with it all.


So let’s take a page from Stephen’s life. Actually the New Testament gives him about three-and-a-half pages! Don’t let the New Year be a train wreck in your life. Accelerate full steam ahead, full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, full of grace, and full of power. The fullness doesn’t come from you but from pipelines of living water that flow from the higher elevations of heaven and from the limitless lakes of our Savior’s love.

May the Lord melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on each one of us!