“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)…rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:8–10).
How can these two character qualities silence opposers? They come from the indwelling Holy Spirit who moves in those submitted to His will. Grace is a divine supply that comes from God alone to enable us to do what would be impossible without it. Persons who are outside the work of grace cannot understand both the work and words of grace that come from God. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
In the same chapter, Paul wrote to Corinth that his “message was not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:4-5).
God uses the gospel of pure grace to show His power. It cannot be humanly understood. The simplicity of Stephen’s message of grace silenced his opposers. That is power! As we will see in the next chapter (Acts 7), the conviction in Stephen’s message drove them to stone him. That was the only way they could silence his words and his power.
Will our messages convict the hearers to repentance by its power?
Among the seven men mentioned in yesterday’s blog, was a man named Stephen. He was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). As these men humbly went about their new assignment, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” (7).
What would happen in our western churches if we placed a biblical emphasis on character as the Early Church did? The growth of Christianity in America is struggling to stay at 0.5% while Iran is about 19.6%. What are we doing wrong, or what are we not doing which persecuted places are experiencing? (See Joshua Project: https://joshuaproject.net/countries/IR).
It is time we place a biblical emphasis on what we preach and the way we conduct ourselves. It will require repentance through humility. Hudson Taylor once said, “God’s work done God’s way will not lack God’s support.”
Not long after the Church was born at Pentecost, “the disciples increased in number” which brought new challenges to leadership as to how they were going to handle new and growing needs among the disciples. Through the guidance of Christ, the Head of the Church, the twelve apostles asked the Church to “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:1, 4). Note that the apostles asked the congregation to make the selection based on certain character requirements.
Both the character requirements and asking the congregation are rarely done today. Why is this?
The devotion of the Early Church had centered around biblical teaching, fellowship together so they knew each other, making Christ their center in the breaking of bread, and prayer. There was a unity in Christ that not only held them together, but formed a unity in what really mattered.
This unity made way for the Spirit to work powerfully through them so that persecution and resistance only strengthened their dependence on the Lord and a desire for more boldness (4:29-31). Even when the sin of lying tried to creep in and cause disunity, it was quickly met with powerful, Spirit-filled confrontation. This further unified the Church and “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (5:11).
Could our testimony to the world be becoming weaker because we are not holding to the central principles that established the Church?
In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer compares God’s grace to a “treasure hidden in the field. For the sake of it, a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (page 45).
There is much more on this subject, but I want to point out that we usually think of the cost of grace from God’s side. But it is costly for us if we have received the call, “Come follow me” (Matthew 19:21). While there is a cost to follow Jesus, it is a privilege to follow Him, having been called by Him, I will pay the price to partake of this grace. Will you pay the price?
Over 19 times in the New Testament (NT), the concept of obedience is used in different ways, but always for the same result; that our lives are brought more and more into alignment with the will of God. The only way we learn the value of God’s truth is through putting it into practice
Here are a few ways that the word “obedience” is used in the NT:
Every form of obedience that God requires begins with authority He has established. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:2). Wisdom is in recognizing His authority.
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
How does this purifying process take place in a Christian? We have two clues in the verses that follow:
Putting these two things together, we see that God began our new life in Christ with the Word of God and He sustains us with that same Word. Without the Word, we will wither and fall (1:24).
Paul says that Christ in His love for the Church sanctifies and purifies her by “cleansing her by the washing of water with the Word” (Eph. 5:26). That is going on all the time.
Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (4:12–13). That is the active purifying effect of Scripture. Our nature, or flesh, does not like these verses because the Holy Spirit is using them to convict you of things He has brought to your attention before, and you have brushed aside His promptings.
God has designed this moment for you to let His Word purify you through obedience to His truth. You do not want to miss the results.
Kenyan runner Abel Mutai was just a few feet from the finish line, but became confused with the signs and stopped, thinking he had completed the race. A Spanish runner, Ivan Fernandez, was right behind him and, realizing what was happening, started shouting at the Kenyan to continue running. Mutai didn't know Spanish and didn't understand. Realizing what was taking place, Fernandez pushed Mutai to victory. A journalist asked Ivan, "Why did you do that?" Ivan replied, "My dream is that someday we can have a kind of community life where we push and help each other to win." The journalist insisted "But why did you let the Kenyan win?" Ivan replied, "I didn't let him win, he was going to win. The race was his." The journalist insisted, and again asked, "But you could have won!" Ivan looked at him and replied, "But what would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor in that medal? What would my Mother think of that?"
Two days ago, the NFI team were together via Zoom and were praying through Hebrews 12 as it relates to us personally and as a ministry. The author appeals to each of us; “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1–2).
How are you encouraging others to keep running until we reach the prize? – CHRIST!
We have all known celebrities, great authors, athletes who won the gold, and those we consider heroes. In every generation, people have looked up to those who are more educated, achieved a higher social status, or become wealthier. But, are they the ones Jesus thought were important?
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”” (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16).
What about the religious leaders? Were they not important? At one point in Jesus’ ministry when they said that Jairus’ daughter had died, Jesus said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping” (Luke 8:52) and put out all those who laughed at Him (Mark 5:40). “Taking her by the hand He said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (5:41).
How grateful I am for those who work with children to bring them the message of salvation! Jesus thanked His Father that He had “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).
As we rewrite God’s Plan for His Disciples into a children’s book, I am thinking of all those “little children” God is going to bring into the kingdom. How thankful we are for those who are helping us develop this new resource. As it nears completion, we will share the final product with you. Children are important!
“I have not stopped doing the work of the Lord. Your part of this has motivated me to keep working to establish churches. I am also working with 12 new disciples who have received God's Plan for His Disciples (GPHD). They were Seventh-Day Adventists, but now know the greatness of Grace. These twelve brothers have the vision to plant a new church.
On the 29th and 30th of this month, I will be in a community 700 km (435 miles) from Managua, where one of the disciples in a house church went to work discipling people who are becoming disciples.
We don't have any more books (GPHD) and we need more. We are making copies of it to do our work. Pray for us that there will be resources so no obstacle will stop us from moving forward. Pastors who have received the teaching are very grateful to God, and it is bringing revival to their churches. People have come back to the Word of God, and that brings a real revival.”
Please pray with us that we can get a supply of books to them as quickly as possible.
Read these sobering words; “and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30), not Christ.
Verses like this are rarely spoken of from church pulpits, and much less spoken by leaders as warnings. Paul had spent three years in Ephesus, discipling, encouraging and warning the elders so that when he left them, they would be strong in their faith and men true to the Word of God.
As he is leaving them, Paul says, “Pay close attention to yourselves” (20:28). Self-examination like this is hard to do, especially when you work closely with other leaders and may be influenced by their thinking. Paul’s concern comes from a deep love for Christ, His truth and His Church.
The same deep concern was written to Corinth; “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
The question for us is whether we have as deep a concern for Christ’s bride as Paul did? My point in this blog is not to make a list of all the “twisted things” that are being said (and done), but to raise the concern and make us examine what we preach and teach, making sure it will stand the scrutiny of God’s Word. Culture and popularity are not the standard.
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