Two days ago, we saw that Philip was willing to be redirected by “an angel of the Lord… and he rose and went” (Acts 8:26-27). There were further instructions for Philip from the Spirit as he went; “Go over and join this chariot. So Philip ran to him [a court official of Candace] and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet” (8:29-30).
Notice that Philip did not ask any questions of the angel of the Lord or the Spirit, but instantly obeyed. How often I have received a prompting from the Spirit and in my mind argued a hundred reasons why it was not the right opportunity. Not Philip! Neither did Philip ask the Ethiopian eunuch why he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The circumstantial facts at that moment were not the issue. The more important question was, “Do you understand what you are reading? God had already directed this man to read Isaiah 53 and the most important thing was connecting this man’s heart and mind with the Word of God. God had a willing servant in Philip who would make that connection.
I will venture to say that the most effective work any believer can do is through close communion with the Holy Spirit and obedience to His direction in our lives. God will always lead us into places and in contact with persons where He is already at work. Joining Him will result in fruitful ministry to God’s glory. Is your obedience leading you to where God is already at work?
As the Early Church grew, circumstances were constantly changing. While some who had been scattered began to return to Jerusalem, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place” (Acts 8:26). There is not one word of complaint from Philip! “And he rose and went” (8:27). That is the obedience of faith.
Before I write anything more, I ask you; is your heart willing to receive redirection from the Lord? I am currently going through a redirection in my own life, and at first my heart was not very willing. My preferred choice would be to travel overseas and be directly involved in our ministry in many countries. But in accepting God’s redirection, I am seeing new opportunities where God is already at work. Philip would have missed seeing God work in an Ethiopian court official if he had resisted.
Have you resisted God’s leading or redirection in your life? We will never know what we would have missed if we resist. On the contrary, through accepting God’s leading or redirection, we see that He has planned for encounters with others in view of their transformation, the spread of the gospel, and confirmation of the Spirit’s work in us. Stop making excuses and follow God’s leading.
Not long after the church in Jerusalem was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, and “they had testified and spoken the Word of the Lord” (Acts 8:25), it became evident that they could safely return to Jerusalem. On this return journey, God provided other opportunities to “preach the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans”. No thought was given to their comfort or how much work they had done, or the needs back in the home church, Jerusalem. God was presenting another ‘open door’ and they wanted to take advantage of it.
This presents challenges to our own hearts.
· Do we really want to be led by the Spirit?
· Are we in tune with the Holy Spirit so we recognize opportunities that He presents?
· How often do we pass up opportunities because of convenience issues?
· Is our comfort (physical or cultural) more important than spreading the gospel?
In Paul’s closing instructions to Timothy, he tells him to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). This equally applies to you and me. How will we respond?
We must not think that all goes well when God is given free control of our lives through the Holy Spirit. There may be open opposition from the public or even from religious leaders, as we have seen. There is a more subtle danger. When someone is seeing God work as Simon did (“who had previously practiced magic” – Acts 8:9), he wanted to buy the power he saw in the apostles without the relationship they had in Christ.
I fear that this same attempt is being made today, whether it be through teaching or healing, forms of prayer or styles of preaching. If any of these are sought for the mere human result they bring, we will miss God’s method and we will experience fruitless, human bondage. Ultimately, God is robbed of His glory.
The hallmark of God’s work is that it produces obedience to the Word, not attachment to men, women or ministries. If we are not careful to make this critical distinction in ourselves and our ministries, we will miss God’s purpose, power and fruitfulness. The result of Philip’s preaching was that those who heard, believed and were baptized. That was proof of God’s power and fruitfulness.
On the very day that Stephen was stoned, “there arose…a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). Remember the words of Jesus just before He ascended into heaven; “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). For about seven years, the church in Jerusalem had grown and become focused on themselves, forgetting these words. It took the stoning of a valuable servant and the rise of persecution to push the gospel out of Jerusalem.
There is no indication that the church started Bible schools or special programs to prepare anyone for evangelism or expansion. But God had built an inherent instinct into the church to ‘devote themselves to the apostles teaching’ which came through the indwelling Holy Spirit (2:42). Thus, when this persecution caused a scattering, it was only natural that “those who were scattered went about preaching the Word” (8:4). Luke selects one primary example of this movement of God in a man named Philip who “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (8:5). He had been one selected by the church in Jerusalem to care for the Hellenists widows because he was a man “of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom” (6:3, 5).
Whether we realize it or not, there is a weakness in church leadership today in being able to trust the work of God through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. The proof of what God was doing through ordinary persons who were filled with the Spirit was that “the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip…so there was much joy in that city” (8:6, 8).
If this is what God can do through the witness of an ordinary man like Philip, what will He do today through you and me as we are yielded to the Holy Spirit for witness in the places God ‘pushes us to’? Not only would the church be renewed through the Word of God, but it would experience an amazing expansion through the power of the Spirit in our witness.
Stephen was not an apostle, but this ordinary brother was “full of the Spirit and wisdom…full of grace and power” (Acts 6:3, 8). A religious sect of the synagogue called the Freedmen “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (6:10). The power of the Spirit and the Word of God became even more apparent as their opposition caused “the high priest to ask, “Are these things so?”” (7:1).
This was an invitation for Stephen to draw from the powerful resource of God’s Word. Beginning with God calling Abraham, he paints a remarkable picture from Scripture of God’s dealing with His people. “Our fathers refused to obey Him, but thrust Him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt” (7:39). From this summary, Stephen brings the point of God’s Word in the prophets to bear on those he was speaking to. Israel had been “stiff-necked” and so were those listening to Stephen.
In this case, there was no conviction of heart. We cannot force conviction on those who hear the Word. That is the work of the Spirit. But we are responsible to present the Word in the power of the Spirit and as living witnesses to its power (1:8). Perhaps the most significant thing you and I can do at this moment is to humbly ask God to restore in us a love for His Word and its power and authority. This will immediately resolve resistance and disobedience.
“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” (Acts 6:7). Because of the inherent nature of the “Word of God”, we should expect nothing less than its expansion.
Why was this so apparent with the Early Church? As you will remember, the Word of God was central to everything the church did from the beginning. The first preaching by Peter on the Day of Pentecost was full of references to the Old Testament which confirmed what God was doing at the moment. In that way, the Word of God must be the foundation for all we do and the reason God brings results, equaling expansion and multiplication.
Scripture clearly indicates what happens when the Word is not central. There was corruption in the house of the Lord during this time of Eli because “the Word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1). The spiritual condition in Corinth was so low that Paul “could not address [them] as spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 3:1). When the Word of God governs the life and ministry of the people of God, conditions like this are prevented. The most powerful remedy to such conditions was what “is written” in the Word of God (1:19; 2:9; etc.).
It should not surprise us to see the Word of God increase where it is faithfully relied on for church life and the expansion of the gospel. As we see from Acts 6:7, the most unexpected people become “obedient to the faith” when the Word is allowed to powerfully work in and through us.
It should grab our interest to read the details of how the Early Church grew so rapidly. The apostles knew the role God had called them to, and even the needs caused by exponential growth were not going to divert them from that calling. When the “widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” of food (Acts 6:1), the apostles did not take on the work themselves, nor did they overlook the need. Neither did they give this responsibility to anyone. They instructed “brothers” 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” (6:3). Needs were to be met by spiritual leadership so that God’s power would be seen in how the church functioned.
Why was this responsibility delegated to others? The apostles knew they must “devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (6:4). It was how the church began and it was how the church was going to expand. The wording that Luke uses is very instructive; “we will devote ourselves” means, ‘to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in’ doing something of high importance. Considering what the Early Church faced, it is understandable why Luke uses this expression.
In all my experiences with the church over many years, these two devotions are least maintained by the church. Why? They are not given the importance that the Early Church gave them. How can we recapture prayer and the Word at the level we see in Acts? To five churches that were waning in their devotion, Jesus says one thing; “REPENT”! (Revelation 2:6, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19). There are a few places in this world where the church is taking this path and God is answering with revival. Will you lead the way where you are?
If you have followed the last few blogs, you know that we have been following the apostles as they spoke the Word of God boldly, even in circumstances of suffering. Opposition never stopped them. We saw that the “enraged” council “wanted to kill them” (Acts 5:33). In the face of this, they are obedient to the command “GO” (Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:20).
What is next on their agenda? “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42). I want this passion to fill my life with boldness from the Holy Spirit and conviction through the Word. When this is true of us, God will give the opportunities. God is looking for hearts in love with Jesus and His Word, and He will make sure the doors are open to share with the power of the Spirit, the power of the Word.
Will you join us in this desire, longing and passion? If you are genuine in this, do not be surprised at what God will do.
I am often deeply challenged as I reread God’s Word over and over. As I was going over some chapters in Acts and seeing the power of God’s Word operate in the Early Church, I cannot overlook their attitude toward suffering because of their bold witness. In fact, their bold witness which brought them more suffering also gave them more opportunities, not just to public audiences but to religious rulers.
Take note of the apostles’ attitude after they were beaten and “charged…not to speak in the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40). What follows should arrest our attention: “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (5:41).
I have read many accounts of present-day believers who suffer immensely for witnessing to the name of Jesus, and they share this same attitude. Let us remember, whether we suffer as they did or not, that it is the highest privilege of any human to bear the name of Jesus and witness to who He is and what He has done. If carrying that name brings suffering, it is a high honor!
Will you carry His name to the ends of the earth with me? Be sure to count the cost!
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