The President’s annual State of the Union Address is an interesting spectacle to observe. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must state that I did not watch the 2013 iteration.) Certainly the President does not have an enviable position in attempting to justify his previous year’s agenda while simultaneously laying out his intentions for policymaking in the next year. This alone would be difficult enough, but giving such a speech with the knowledge that whatever you say will be sliced and diced by supporters and opponents alike, each of whom will attempt to explain to his constituents what you “actually” meant, makes it almost impossible to escape unscathed.
Interestingly enough, when we speak publicly about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we often can experience the same kind of misrepresentation that most politicians experience (and use to their best advantage when it suits them). In Acts 7 we have one such example. Stephen was brought up on charges of blasphemy for his statements concerning the temple and the law of Moses, but Acts 6:13 tells us that the witnesses against him were speaking falsely. But rather than being completely fabricated, their accusations reflect a misrepresentation of Stephen’s actual position. It is difficult for us to know for sure, but it is very likely that he used Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection (Mark 14:58) to declare the end of the old dispensation and the beginning of the church age. His message was no doubt consistent with Jesus’ words in John 4:21-23, “…the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…”
Having one’s position so misunderstood and facing such an accusation would probably lead most of us to cry out against the injustice of our circumstances, but Stephen’s approach bears some careful consideration. Rather than demand justice or lament the suppression of his rights, Stephen followed the example of Christ, “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously…” (1 Peter 2:23). Stephen continued to preach the gospel, knowing that, in all likelihood his opponents had already made up their minds about his guilt, even praying for them as they violently and angrily murdered him (Acts 7:60). It is only by faith in the rightness of God’s judgment that we can fulfill Christ’s command to love and pray for our enemies.