The promised gift of the Holy Spirit is connected with world-wide witness; “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was with the appearance of tongues as of fire which was promised by God (Joel 2:28-32). The apostles immediately “began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4), and they preached to the people repentance and forgiveness of sins (2:5-13, 37-38).
From this brief account by Luke, we can connect the gift of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the gospel to those outside the Church, which had been formed by the coming of the Spirit. Later when the apostles are threatened and told to stop preaching the name of Jesus, they gathered for prayer and asked God to “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness…And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:29-31). There is an immediate confirmation by the Spirit, because it was what God wanted to do through them.
Are you making the connection? The coming of the Holy Spirit was, along with other reasons, intended to empower the apostles with preaching the gospel with boldness and He confirmed this in them by His filling them with His power. We cannot effectively preach the Good News with Him. It’s no wonder thousands were added to the Church! The question is whether we want to be filled by Him and as effective as they were in reaching those who have never heard?
I first want to apologize to so many of you who follow this blog faithfully, for missing yesterday. The demands in the last few days have not allowed me to get everything done that I should have.
In this blog, we will return to Acts 15:14 where James made the appeal, “Brothers, listen to me, “Simeon (the Hebrew name for Simon Peter) has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name”” (15:13-14). There was so much evidence in the testimony of Peter from his personal vision and voice from heaven, followed by the encounter with Cornelius and his household. Added to that was the witness of Barnabas and Paul “as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (15:12); “how God first visited the Gentiles”. What was God doing through all this?
God was taking from among the Gentiles “a people for his name”! God has always wanted the people He chose to clearly represent Him that the nations would know God through them. His name is known among people by the way He is represented in us. The people that are for His name are for His glory! In every generation and in every people group around the world, God wants to be known through those He visits with the glorious gospel, the Good News!
Do you want God’s glory increased and His name spread to every people group on the earth? Then represent Him clearly through walking closer with Jesus, and the nations will see Him through you!
But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will [the Gentiles]” (Acts 15:11).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8–9).
We “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:24).
Let’s look at one more verse from Paul’s first letter; “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). We must be very careful in presenting the gospel just as Scripture presents it and not add what we feel will ‘channel’ new converts into thinking differently or less than how God presents in His gospel of pure grace. Adhering closely to Scripture will ensure that ALL THE GLORY for salvation is directed to Jesus, the “founder and perfecter” (Hebrews 12:2), and converts will walk in freedom in Christ.
I am afraid that we have put God to the test for far too long. For hundreds of years we have designed missionary work around Western forms and taken them to places and people around the world, expecting new converts to follow our forms. This has weakened the message of the gospel and hindered the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of converts.
This was exactly the issue the apostles faced at Jerusalem in Acts 15. “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). It became obvious to those who witnessed God at work in the Gentiles, that adding rules, regulations and forms that are not part of the gospel of grace, they would hinder what God was doing.
Why has the Church had such a problem with this same issue down through the centuries? We still do not really understand the grace of God in the gospel, nor the power of God as it is received. The power of the Holy Spirit is either denied or confined to certain activities that we try to control. Our desire to control spiritual outcomes is because we do not fully trust the Holy Spirit to work as He pleases in hearts. As Peter said to the Jerusalem church; insisting on forms is “a yoke on the neck of the disciples” that hinders spiritual maturity and spontaneous expansion of the gospel and the Church.
It was just at the time of this gathering in Jerusalem that Paul wrote his first letter. Note his words: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Are you standing firm in this freedom in the gospel? If not, you are enslaved and bring others into bondage.
It is so exciting to see a church gain a fuller understanding of God’s eternal plan and purpose for us who have received the grace of God. For the church in Jerusalem, it took a crisis. Peter was given a vision from heaven that began a change in his heart toward the Gentiles. After his encounter with Cornelius and his household, it was undeniable that God intended the gospel to reach beyond the Jew and gather in from every tribe, tongue and people group from all over the world to be part of the Church. The challenge was convincing the ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem where the Church began. Events at Antioch had to take place first along with the expansion from this vibrant church into Asia Minor, before Jerusalem would be fully on board with God’s plan.
At a special gathering of apostles and elders in Jerusalem, witness was given to what God had been doing since Peter received that vision. “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8–9). Notice that the proof of God expanding the gospel to the Gentiles without additional requirements was not in what the apostles did, but in the divine action--God giving the Holy Spirit!
The proof that any movement is of God is in what He is doing, not any planned program of man. Peter was obedient to the message from heaven. The Antioch church was obedient to the Holy Spirit. Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit, confirmed by the Antioch church. God used their preaching in the face of opposition and persecution. Allowing Gentiles into the Church was a divine mandate, not a human program, because “He made no distinction between us and them”.
Do you look at different people groups the same way God does? How does your view of God’s plan affect where you present the gospel?
I am afraid we are far too loose in giving ourselves credit for God’s work in others than we should. This seems to be a universal problem among evangelists, pastors and church leaders. We so easily get into numbers, whether it is converts or money. Such conversations prove we have lost our spiritual vision and purpose.
Paul was very clear about where his ability came from and who should get the credit for his success in ministry. On some points, Paul had written “very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace of God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (Romans 15:15). Again, he says, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace” (Ephesians 3:7). He follows this by emphatically stating, “though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given” (3:8). It was not his education or status as an Israelite (see Philippians 3:4-7) which he considered all “loss for the sake of Christ”. They were all nothing, and he felt unworthy of such grace.
Even after all he had accomplished by the time he wrote his sixth letter Romans, Paul insisted that he would “not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience” (Romans 15:18). Paul took no credit for what happened in others through preaching the gospel. It was what “Christ has accomplished”! The more we acknowledge “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), the more our hearts will be filled with joy in His eternal work, not our momentary efforts.
Any who have read this blog for any length of time realize that I have referred to Roland Allen many times. Who is this man? I will give some quotes form an author who knew him well and accurately describes the man and his passion for missions; John E. Branner.
“It is my thesis that his (Allen’s) methodology must not be divorced from his theology; to do so is an affront to the intentions of this man. His theology, particularly the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, permeates his methodology and lays an indispensable foundation for it.” (John E. Branner, “Roland Allen: Pioneer in a Spirit-Centered Theology of Mission”, Missiology 5 (1977), 175-176).
There were four components to Allen’s [mission] foundation. The first was Allen’s understanding of “the way of Christ”. The second component was the apostolic approach. He relied mostly on the New Testament for his theology. The third and fourth components were ecclesiology (the Church) and pneumatology (the Holy Spirit).
While it was his Spirit-centered view of mission that resulted in much controversy, it was also this that made his work and writings so powerful – pointing us back to a biblical model. My hope is that you also will appreciate Allen and others who know that our success is in taking seriously the authority and sufficiency of Scripture seriously. There is no other way to success in missions!
I return to the subject of missionary work and how we should think of reaching the unreached. With 6,989 people groups around the world who are still unreached with the gospel or have no church with indigenous people speaking their language, we are failing at the Great Commission. We have been led to believe that someone needs to spend years learning a language and culture of a people when God wants to raise up someone in the people group or someone familiar with it to proclaim the gospel.
Roland Allen observed that “Many have realized…that our missionaries must aim at laying a foundation so India will be evangelized by Indians, China by Chinese, Africa by Africans, each country by its own Christians. That means our missionaries must prepare the way for the evangelization of a country (people group) by the free spontaneous activity of their own converts.” (The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and Causes Which Hinder It, page 12).
This method is confirmed by Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians. “The word of the Lord sounded forth from [them] in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Paul and Silas left behind them those who were empowered by the Spirit to reach their own. This movement of God included “a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4). We need to look at the lack of progress in reaching the unreached, return to a biblical model, and be inspired by a God-given example.
We saw yesterday that Jesus exhorted His disciples to become as little children to enter the kingdom. Jesus brings out another aspect of child-like qualities that is very important. The Jewish leaders had shown very strong resistance to John the Baptist when he came to make way for Jesus, and now they accused Jesus of having a demon (Matthew 11:18). Jesus had worked miracles among them, but they refused to repent; “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (11:23).
They were unteachable and therefore unrepentant. In reading this section in Matthew 11, you can almost feel the anguish of heart Jesus felt about their rejection. “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (11:25–26).
It is a great quality to be teachable as we see in children. “The wise and understanding” in their own eyes have no desire to learn. Solomon said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). God is looking for those who want to learn from Him. Traditions and cultures have taught us the opposite of being a little child in spirit and mind. The Spirit of God waits to instruct the children of God who humbly say, ‘I don’t know anything as I should’.
In this ministry, we have come across many who have nothing of this world’s goods and little or no education, but they have a hunger and thirst for the Word of God and His wisdom. They are the people who by faith receive what they learn from Scripture and immediately apply it in obedience. Do you have this child-like quality?
Normally we do not think of wisdom in children, but it is there. I am not referring to wisdom in the sense of intelligence or knowledge, but as character qualities Jesus points to as very important. Jesus used a child to illustrate a lesson the disciples needed to learn. They “came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”” (Matthew 18:1). Mark 9:34 says they were “arguing or disputing” over this issue, indicating it was not a casual conversation.
This was one of those moments that needed a visual illustration to get the point of His answer across. To do this, Jesus “called to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3–4).
There is wisdom in humility and according to these verses, without it we “will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is a very strong statement that is often overlooked. Humility in child-like simplicity is essential for kingdom work. It will never be self-seeking, but always promoting the glory of God and the preeminence of Jesus. Will we “turn and become like children” to make way for Jesus and His wisdom? The consequences of pride stops the progress of God’s work wherever pride is found. Jesus will vomit such out of His mouth (Revelation 3:15-17).
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