Becoming a More Effective ServantFull of the Holy Spirit
Leslie Basham: You’ve heard of operating systems: Mac, Windows, Linux. Nancy Leigh DeMoss asks, “What kind of OS (operating system) is running your life?”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Our lives are run by one of two basic operating systems: the flesh or the Spirit. One operating system, the flesh, is natural. The other operating system, the Spirit, is supernatural.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, February 10.
Most of us want to become more effective in building God’s kingdom. Today, Nancy begins a new series, talking about five qualities that will help you grow as a servant to the body of Christ.
Nancy: A year or so ago, as I was reading through the Scripture, I came to the book of Acts, chapters 6 and 7. That’s the story of Stephen, the first martyr. I began to meditate on his life and what I saw in that passage. As I savored that text and lived in it for a bit, I began to see five qualities in the life of Stephen that I started to pray would be true in my own life.
I can’t say I prayed those every day, but I prayed them a number of times—many times over this past year or so. I’ve begun to pray these things for other people . . . even when I’m in a conversation with someone and I want to pray with them. I’ve often prayed these five things for people over the past year or so.
So over the next few days, I want us to take a look at these five qualities, and I hope you’ll be encouraged to begin praying these five things for yourself and for others—for your friends, your coworkers, your pastor, your pastor’s wife, your mate, your children—just as God brings people to mind.
I want to give us a little bit of background first, so let me encourage you to turn in your Bible, if you have one and you’re able to do that, to the book of Acts chapter 6 (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts). We’re dealing with the early church in the first century. The church has experienced explosive growth since the day of Pentecost.
The church, some commentators estimate, probably was about twenty thousand people by this time in the city of Jerusalem. As you might imagine, that’s very fast growth! What do you do with all those “newborn babes”? You don’t have commentaries, you don’t have small groups, you don’t have Bible studies . . . they did, but all these things are having to be formed. How do you disciple these believers?
With that many people, you’re going to end up with some growing pains. In fact, that’s what happened. In chapter 5—which we’re not going to look at—there was persecution that began to be exerted against the church. That was one of the things the enemy used to try and stop the church from becoming the powerhouse God wanted it to be in the world.
Now, in chapter 6, the enemy works in a different way. It happens through some conflict between believers—dissension. It happened this way: With that many people, as you might imagine (even in a small church this is the case, but then take a church of twenty-thousand people) it was difficult to meet all the different spiritual, physical, relational needs of the different believers and the different groups and the different kinds of believers from different backgrounds.
So out of this growth, a crisis developed, and we read about it beginning with Acts 6:1.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution [or as the New American Standard Bible says, “In the daily serving] of food.
Let’s just stop there. We have two groups of people. We have the Hebrews and the Hellenists. The Hebrews in this passage were the Jewish converts to Christ, to Christianity, who had been born and raised in Palestine. They were the locals.
Then the Hellenists were Jewish believers who had lived abroad in the Greek world and had now returned to Israel—perhaps for different reasons. Some of them may have moved back to Israel. Some of them may have been there for Passover (when Jesus died on the cross) and Pentecost (fifty days later when the Holy Spirit came and the church began to grow). They may have just stayed there when they saw what God was doing.
Regardless of the reason, these were people from the dispersed Jews (the diaspora as it’s sometimes called) who had been in the Hellenistic or the Greek world, who were Greek speaking. They had, through their time abroad (some of them may have never lived in Palestine before), absorbed the Greek customs and culture. They were a minority within the largely Hebrew church (the Jews who had been born and raised in Palestine) at that time.
The native Hebrews looked on the Hellenists—these newcomers to Israel—with suspicion. Maybe they weren’t godly enough, or they were too worldly, or they spoke a different language. There was actually some prejudice. There was animosity, naturally, between these two groups.
When it came to taking care of the widows—which was a really important thing . . . Widows in that era would have been destitute without somebody meeting their needs. That was a responsibility the church took on. It was one of the things that made the church so remarkable in the first century—they cared for their own, and they didn’t expect the government to do it. But dissension arose between the two groups—the Hebrew believers and the Hellenist believers.
Ultimately, that tension came to a head as the Hellenists (the Greek-speaking believers) felt that the Hebrew believers were intentionally overlooking their widows while taking care of their own. “You’re taking care of your widows, but you’re ignoring ours.” This didn’t seem all that big an issue, but it did come to a head. It had the potential for sowing the seeds of a split within the newborn church. It was an issue that had to be addressed.
The apostles stepped up to the plate and gave direction. Acts 6:2:
And the twelve [the apostles] summoned the full number of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables."
Let me just stop there a second.
The word tables there can refer to tables that would be used for serving meals, to literally serve these widows. That might be the meaning there. The word can also be used to refer to tables that are used in exchanging money. In this context, I think the word tables probably refers to the handling of business and administrative matters.
The apostles are saying, “Our job is to teach the Word of God, and if we stop to handle these business and finance matters of the church . . . we can’t do both. They both need to be done, so what are we to do?” The apostles knew they couldn’t carry the responsibility for spiritually shepherding and leading and training the growing church and at the same time handle these very practical matters related to administration and financial management.
So they say in Acts 6:3 and 4:
Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
The apostles propose a solution. They say to the disciples gathered there to select a group of men to provide oversight. “This is important. It needs to be dealt with. It needs more time and gifting than we can devote to it. This is a difficult situation, and it’s threatening to the life of the church." They realized it was important that the men who were selected would be able to handle the situation.
This passage places a lot of emphasis on the qualifications and the characteristics of the men who were selected for this important task. That’s where we’re going to look at five of those qualities that are found in Acts chapter 6.
The first two we just read in verse 3. These men who were to be selected for this important task had to be full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. And then, verse 5,
And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.
Seven men who, by the way, had Greek names, suggesting that these were probably men chosen from the Hellenistic—the Greek—believers.
These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.
So here we have seven men who were selected for this administrative task—this management responsibility—and they were all to be full of the Spirit and full of wisdom. In addition, it was said of Stephen in particular that he was full of faith, full of grace, and full of power. There you have the five things we want to look at over these few days—what it means to be full of the Spirit, to be full of wisdom, to be full of faith, to be full of grace and to be full of power.
Today, if we were looking for people to fill this kind of important position, I wonder what qualities we would look for? Here’s a list that came to my mind: I think we might look for natural leadership ability, for strong administrative skills—maybe an MBA, for problem-solving ability, good people skills, training and experience in conflict resolution, communication skills, language skills (because you had to navigate between these Greek-speakers and these Hebrew or Aramaic-speakers—so you have a language barrier here).
You think about all those qualities. Stephen may have had some or most of these qualities, but the qualities that are highlighted in Scripture are different. The qualities highlighted in Scripture are that they would be full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and full of power. Also, if you read chapter 7, which is part of this story, although it doesn’t use this term, you’ll see that Stephen was a man who was also full of the Word—full of the Scripture. These were the qualities that made him an effective servant of the Lord and of the church.
It struck me as I meditated on this passage, these qualities are not just for church leaders, but they should be true of every believer. I need to be full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and full of power in order to fulfill what God has called me to do.
You say, “Of course that’s true because you lead a ministry, and you speak, you write books.” But I want to tell you this. You need to be full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and full of power to do whatever He has called you to do, no matter how demanding or seemingly insignificant those tasks may seem—to serve in your home, to serve in your church, to serve in your workplace, to live in your neighborhood. For everything God’s called you to do, you need those five qualities.
Before we look at these qualities (and we’re going to take a little bit of time to look at each one), I’ve just been thinking about what it means to be “full” of something, so we have an idea of what it is we’re asking God to do as we pray for these things.
To be “full” I think means to have a lot of it, to have an abundance of, to be full of something—that’s what characterizes you. That’s what you’re known for. To be full of wisdom or to be full of grace . . . As we look at the whole of God’s Word, I don’t think it means that you’re perfect, or that you’ve arrived, but that this becomes the consistent pattern of your life. It’s characteristic of you.
To be full of something is to have it through and through. There’s phrase used in Luke 5 that talks about a man “full of leprosy.” He didn’t have a little bit of leprosy. He was full of leprosy. His body, through and through, had this horrible disease. To be full of something means that you don’t have whatever the opposite is.
You can’t be full of two things. You can’t be full of faith and full of fear at the same time—they’re opposites. So if you’re full of faith, you’re going to have to be emptied of fear. With each of these characteristics there’s something that we want to be full of and there are also things we want to be emptied of.
To be full of something—the fruit of the Spirit or any of these qualities—means it’s not just what’s on the surface or the outside of your life, but it’s what’s at the core of your life. What’s on the inside? How do you know what’s on the inside?
The way I know is when I get jostled. When you have a full cup and it gets jostled, what’s inside is what comes out, right? If I’ve got a full cup of water and it gets shaken, what is going to come out is not lemonade—it’s going to be water. It's whatever is inside.
We think, I’m not an angry person, until we get jostled, right? Then out come attitudes, and these words that come spewing out. We think, Ooh! Maybe I am an angry person. I didn’t realize it! When we get shaken, we find out what we’re full of, and what we’re filled with is what flows out in those crisis moments.
Scripture, by the way, speaks of other things that people can be full of that are not so good. Jesus, for example, said to the Pharisees that inside, “you are full of greed, self-indulgence, hypocrisy and lawlessness” (see Mt. 23:25, 28). Those were the religious leaders, by the way, He said that to.
Jesus confronted the Jews and the Scripture says they were, “filled with wrath,” and in another case, “filled with fury” (see Luke 4:28, 6:11). When Jesus calmed the storm the disciples were “filled with great fear,” the Scripture says (see Mark 4:41). And in the book of Acts, when the Jews were turning to Christ in great droves, the Word says the religious leaders were filled with “jealousy” (see Acts 5:17). These are things we don’t want to be filled with.
Romans 1:29 has a long list of things that we don’t want to be filled with. It speaks of those who are apart from Christ, who are unregenerate. It says, “They are filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness”—all these qualities.
To be full of something speaks of all of your desires, of your passions. What do you think about? What is your behavior, what’s your speech? Everything about us is affected by what our heart is full of. What our heart is full of will impact every area of our lives.
So before we look at these individual characteristics, I’ve just got to ask, “What are you full of?” “What am I full of?” If you’re not sure, ask your family. Ask the people who know you best, the people who see you in your unguarded moments.
You see, today we all look like we’re filled with grace and faith and holiness. But we’re sitting here listening to the Bible being taught, and we’re dressed up, and we’re on our best behavior. We’re not getting jostled. It’s when you go home tonight and you find your husband at home watching things on TV with your little kids that appalls you. What are you full of? It’s going to come out in that moment.
Well, I know that I want to be full of the Spirit of Christ. I want to be full of wisdom; I want to be full of faith; I want to be full of grace; I want to be full of power. That’s what I’ve started praying over this last year. That’s what I would pray for you, as well.
In order to be full of these things—the Spirit, wisdom, faith, grace, power—we’ve got to be emptied of the things that are the opposite. We’ll see that as we look at each one of these.
In just the last few moments that we have today—and we could spend a whole series on each of these—I just want to touch on, today, what it means to be full of the Spirit. This is mentioned twice in one paragraph, so it must be important. Acts 6:3: “Pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit." Acts 6:5: “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit, and I’ve come up with one analogy—which certainly does not do the subject justice. I’m in the process of changing over computers, so I’m thinking about computer stuff.
(I’m going to tell you more than I know about computers right now.) When you think about the OS, the computer operating system, that is (as I understand it) the software that manages the computer hardware and also enables the various applications that you’re using (like Microsoft Word or whatever—that wasn’t a commercial), that’s what enables all the applications to function.
The operating system is what ties all that together and makes it work. Our lives are run by one of two basic operating systems: the flesh or the Spirit. That’s what runs everything in you. Your operating system is the source of your life, the source of your power, what controls you, what energizes you, what empowers you, what enables you to function.
One operating system, the flesh, is natural. The other operating system, the Spirit, is supernatural. When you run your life by flesh, or self, you see what you can do. When your life, on the other hand, is run by the operating system of the Spirit, then you see what God can do. You begin to live in the realm of the supernatural, the unexplainable.
To be filled with the Spirit—to be full of the Spirit—is to have a life that is controlled and managed and enabled by God. Ephesians 5:18 makes the comparison. It says, “Don’t be drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit is to have a life that is intoxicated with God—not just a few sips of God every now and then—but to be intoxicated with God, to be filled with God, to be under the control of God.
As we see Stephen being filled with the Spirit, there are several evidences that he was filled with the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit was what enabled him, first, to serve—the fact that he was willing to serve in this behind-the-scenes, administrative position.
He wasn’t looking for the apostles’ job. He was willing to take the post that was assigned, appointed to him. Being filled with the Spirit doesn’t exempt you from nitty-gritty, everyday responsibilities. It doesn’t exempt you from preparing and serving meals to family—those of you that are in that season of life.
Preparing and serving meals to your family may be the way that they see that you are full of the Spirit. You see, we think that being full of the Spirit is just when you’re doing spiritual things. Well, if God’s calling on your life is to prepare and serve meals to your family—or whatever it is in your home, in your church, in your workplace—it’s doing what God’s called you to do with a servant’s heart. That is one of the things that evidences that you are filled with the Spirit.
You need the fullness of the Spirit as much to do daily, seemingly trivial responsibilities as to do things that seem much more lofty and significant. The Spirit is the One who gives us the gifting to do what God has called us to do. When we’re filled with the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit will be operational to serve and to fulfill our calling.
Stephen was filled with the Spirit. That enabled him to speak when he faced, in the next chapter, opposition and resistance to his message. It enabled him when he was opposed, when he was persecuted—just as Jesus said would be the case. “When you get dragged in before rulers and governors, don’t worry ahead of time about what you’re going to say, but the Holy Spirit will teach you what’s right to say” (see Luke 12:11–12). That’s what happened to Stephen.
He was just minding his own business, doing his job, when all of the sudden he was thrust before these angry, rage-filled, religious leaders. The Holy Spirit showed him what to say in that adverse situation and in that conflict. It was the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of the Spirit, that enabled Stephen to suffer for Christ—not just to serve, not just to speak, but also to suffer.
When Stephen was threatened, he didn’t retaliate. In Acts chapter 7:54 and 55 we see:
When they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
It’s the fullness of the Spirit that will enable you to suffer with grace and seeing Christ above all.
We can’t do anything of eternal significance apart from the fullness of His Spirit. Just a reminder that to be full of the Spirit doesn’t mean that you get “more” of the Holy Spirit. When you got saved, you received all of the Holy Spirit there is to get, but to be full of the Spirit is for your whole life to be surrendered to the operating system—not of self, but of the Spirit. It's to be under His control, to be fully surrendered to Him.
Keep in mind that being full of the Spirit is not a one-time, dramatic experience. It’s a way of life. I need to be full of the Spirit today, while I’m teaching. I need to be full of the Spirit tomorrow, when I’m not teaching, when I’m behind the scenes. I need to be full of the Spirit with my houseguests. I’ve got a house full of guests right now—they’re there for an extended period of time. I need to be full of the Spirit to deal with what that brings up.
I need to be full of the Spirit when I’m alone, and nobody sees what I’m doing, and I’m having to make choices regarding what I’m going to do with my time. I need to be full of the Spirit all the time. To be full of the Spirit is to be emptied of self and filled with Jesus.
Leslie: The apostles couldn’t do the work they did without the power of the Holy Spirit. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us why the same is true for us. That teaching is part of the series called "Becoming a More Effective Servant." It’s about five qualities the apostles were looking for in leaders in the book of Acts.
The reason you’re able to hear teaching like this from Nancy is thanks to listeners who support Revive Our Hearts financially. If you have listened and benefitted from this program but have never donated, would you consider helping us?
When you support the ministry, you’re helping us continue delivering the program to you each weekday. And you’re making it possible for more women to hear it, be discipled in God’s Word and grow in effective ministry. When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we’ll show our thanks by sending a brand-new book from Nancy Leigh DeMoss called The Wonder of His Name.
As you go through this devotional, you’ll read about thirty-two names of Jesus. You’ll know Him more as you study His names. You’ll enjoy the depth of this devotional writing and the beauty of the illustrations by artist Timothy Botts. This book is a companion guide to the new series Nancy will teach through the Lenten season, also called "The Wonder of His Name."
Get the book now and follow along with the content starting March 5. When you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send the book The Wonder of His Name. You can make your donation at