We cannot impact everyone but we can impact someone, we cannot advance the kingdom everywhere but we can somewhere. As we go forth daily as vehicles of God we must remember who is at the wheel. When we let Him lead us it will bring much better results than when we lead and then ask Him to help us.
Paul and his team traveled from Macedonia to Thessalonica but they passed right by two major cities, not yet evangelized, why? These two cities had no Jewish synagogue. See, Paul had a strategy and that is what he would stick to unless the Holy Spirit said differently. His role was to establish a church in a territory and then move on to the next, Jews and Gentile God-Fearers already had knowledge of God. So when Paul would explain through prophecy in the old covenant that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah since they already had a foundation it would be much easier for them to accept and be quickly rooted in faith. Most of the Jews because of religious pride had a hard time but the God-fearers were the ones that accepted the message with open hearts.
In Thessalonica, it says some of the Jews and many of the God-fearers were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas. As usual, the Jews that rejected the message got jealous and stirred up trouble where a mob was formed and they dragged out Jason who was hosting Paul and Silas, saying "these trouble makers are here to turn this city upside down, acting contrary to Caesar's decrees, turning people to another King named Jesus!" The result was Paul and Silas had for their lives to a quieter less noticeable city called Berea.
The biggest enemy to the move of God is the spirit of legalism. Those who have been under legalism gain their worth and identity from their religious works. To say these things are unnecessary and that there is a better way is a direct attack against all that they have held dear. Most people when they learn that there is an easier, less burdensome way to follow God, will choose it. Those who are heavily invested in their religion though will feel threatened as they lose crowds which also means money and their prestigious positions in society. Those who are threatened respond with hostility.
Religious hostility is not just between Christianity and other religions it also can develop within. God is a builder and He is building from one generation to the next, it is all part of the restoration of the earth. He builds through Truth, so each move of God has certain truths that are highlighted for a period of time. These truths will bring changes. People don't like change and they become proud of what they accomplished. As Kingdom citizens, all glory should go to God, and we should be willing to move with God as He moves, no matter what changes come about. We should celebrate with each generation and support them as God does a new work in and through them to continue to build on what we have helped establish.
Sunday April 14th
Some questions in life seem to have easy answers, until we find out that life doesn’t always go as easy as we had hoped.
For instance, a man got a text message at work from his wife that said “windows frozen”.
So he texted back an easy answer to her problem, “pour some hot water on windows”.
Then he got back this reply – “Now computer doesn’t work at all.”
Even in the Bible there were times when things seemed easy and times when things seemed hard.
For example, in the first three verses of chapter 16 Paul picks up a helper who will be of great value to him on his missionary journeys:
1Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Easy, right? Since Timothy was half Jewish and half gentile, Paul made sure that Timothy got circumcised so that he could relate to the Jews as well as the gentiles. (Well, maybe that part wasn’t so easy for Timothy!) But now, as Paul and Timothy start on their journey, we see that even WHERE they are going is not necessarily going to be an easy decision:
4Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.
5So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
6They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;
7and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;
8and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
Paul and Timothy probably would’ve gone right into Asia to preach the gospel but the Holy Spirit FORBID them to speak the word there! And when they tried to go into Bithynia, Jesus wouldn’t permit them! Why not? Why is this process so hard?
Because God not only has a perfect will and a perfect plan for our lives, He also has perfect TIMING. Did God want to reach Asia and Bithynia with the Gospel? I’m sure that He did. But where did God want Paul and Timothy right now? That’s the important question. We find out in verse 9:
9A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
10When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
So God’s perfect plan for that moment was to take the gospel to Macedonia! We can’t be sure what would have happened if Paul had disobeyed God and tried to preach in Asia or Bithynia. It might have been okay or it might have been a disaster! What we CAN be sure of is that by obeying God’s voice and going to Macedonia, their team was certain to see God’s grace on their ministry.
11So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis;
12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.
13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
15And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
So, after obeying the Holy Spirit’s leading, Paul goes to the riverside and meets this woman, Lydia, who will end up being the starting point of the church in Philippi, and the Philippian church would end up being one of his greatest success stories. It’s easy to win people to Christ, right?
Sometimes, but immediately after this encounter comes an example of winning souls the hard way!
16It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.
17Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
I think it’s interesting to note that what this demon-possessed girl is saying is actually true! "These men ARE bond-servants of the Most High God, who ARE proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
Sometimes things that are demonic and cultish can have a thread of truth woven into them. That’s why we always need to examine the spirit behind something before we align ourselves with it.
But Paul is only going to listen to this for so long:
18She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.
Notice that Paul doesn’t belabor this or get into a big dialogue with the evil spirit, he just commands it to “come out” in the name of Jesus! We can’t be sure whether this girl ended up accepting Christ as her savior, but she was clearly delivered from demonic possession but the power of Jesus’ name. Easy, right?
19But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities,
20and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews,
21and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."
22The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.
23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely;
24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Hmmm, not so easy now, is it? But Paul and Silas continue to act as though life is still easy-breezy:
25But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;
Wait, they were doing what? After being beaten and locked up in prison they were singing what?
Think about this question: When is God worthy of our praise? Is it when everything is going our way and our prayers are getting answered just the way we wanted them to?
God is worthy of our praise at all times. And look what happens when God’s people praise him in the midst of their trials and tribulations:
26and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.
That’s an unexpected turn of events, don’t you think? But it came as a direct result of God’s name being exalted, despite their circumstances!
Now, keep in mind that Paul’s ultimate goal is to save souls, and watch what happens next:
27When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!"
29And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,
30and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
31They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Would you say that the jailor’s salvation came easily? I mean think about it, this guy was practically begging to be saved!
But his salvation came at the price of the hardship that Paul and Silas had endured. If they weren’t beaten and imprisoned, then this man doesn’t get saved. Was it worth it for one man’s salvation?
Yes it was, but God had even more in store:
32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.
33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
34And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
I want you to take note of this important truth. If the beating and the jailing of Paul and Silas had only resulted in one man’s salvation, it would have been worth it!
But often times, the salvation of one person becomes the starting point for the salvation of others, whether they are family members, friends, or associates. We saw that when Cornelius’ whole household got saved, spirit-filled and baptized, and we see it again here with this jailer’s family, his whole household.
You’ve probably never heard of a man named Edward Kimball. He was just a Sunday School teacher in a small town. But one of the young boys in his Sunday School class was named Dwight Moody. Edward Kimball introduced Dwight to Jesus and then Dwight, or D. L. Moody as he became known, preached the gospel to a man named Wilber Chapman, and Wilber Chapman preached the gospel to a man known as Billy Sunday.
Through Billy Sunday’s preaching, a man by the name of Mordecai Ham got saved. Then Mordecai Ham went to Charlotte, North Carolina and a high school boy by the name of Billy Graham heard him preach to good news of salvation and he received Jesus as his savior. Of course you know where the story goes from there.
Here’s the bottom line – If Edward Kimball isn’t faithful to teach his Sunday School class about Jesus, then how does Billy Graham get saved? And if Billy Graham doesn’t get saved, what happens to the 215 million people that Billy Graham reached through his crusades?
It kind of makes you want to teach Sunday School, doesn’t it? Well, let us know, we can sure use you!
In the final verses of this chapter, Paul has a few words for the folks that allowed him to be beaten and imprisoned:
35Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men."
36And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace."
37But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out."
38The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans,
39and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.
40They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.
When Paul got saved back in Chapter 9, Jesus spoke over him, saying that Paul would be given the opportunity to speak before kings and other leaders. This episode is just one example of that.
You and I may never get the chance to speak to kings or magistrates. We may not get to share the gospel with the next Billy Graham. But we can share our faith in Christ with someone. It might be easy sometimes or it might be hard other times. But I promise you it will be worth it!
As long as you are trying to advance forward those who are not will try to keep you back. To advance means progress; development, improvement. Each generation is called by God to build on the previous generation, the problem that creates is the former often gets offended at the latter because of the changes made that seem to negate the work they established. Each level of a building goes higher and so instead of becoming jealous or offended, we should celebrate what the next generation is doing. They also must build with appreciation and respect because what they are doing wouldn't be possible if the previous generation didn't do their part. In order to advance generations must work through conflict or the restoration work of the Kingdom will be halted.
The theme of Acts 15 is conflict resolution. The issues between the Jewish and Gentile believers come to a head. We are going to see group conflict resolution and individual resolution. We will see that sometimes issues are resolved other times some people's personality differences are just too sharp and that it is best they move forward apart.
We have been seeing a pattern that when Paul would finish preaching and establishing the church in a territory that certain Jewish leaders would come and add that they must also follow the Jewish customs and laws. While back at their home base in Antioch some men from Judea came and taught that you must be circumcised to be saved. This is work based theology the opposite of what Paul had been teaching regarding being saved by grace. This is why Paul wrote the book of Galatians to refute this false teaching. Here it says Paul and Barnabus got in a serious argument and it was arranged for them to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to settle this debate.
We see that the council at Jerusalem were the ones allowing these leaders to follow the work of Paul in these foreign territories, so they themselves were not in agreement with what Paul had been teaching. Initially, it says they were welcomed by the church when they arrived in Jerusalem but some from the party of the Pharisees said, "it is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!" So, they were now accepting Christianity, they probably had no choice since it had grown numerically, and they feared to lose their jobs. Yet, they were only going to go so far! The sacrifices they had made in obedience to their traditions must be followed by all who call on the name of God or they would oppose them.
Pride, blinds! People cannot hear the truth when it contradicts what they are proud of. People will accept Christ as Savior but not make Him Lord if it means rejecting cultural and religious traditions. If Jesus is Lord then everything must be brought to His feet in surrender. We must follow Him in all of His ways. Not that all we do is completely wrong but we must be willing to make necessary adjustments. All work oriented religious traditions must be nailed to the cross. Our standard must be the Word of God, not the traditions that have passed down to us. Some traditions God has allowed for a season but in the process of advancement, He will eventually say "let it go!"
The Jerusalem Council began and after much debate, Peter stood up and defended the work done amongst the Gentiles. Peter was called to the Jews and had wrestled previously with the idea of Gentile conversion. God had intervened through giving Peter a vision and having him witness Cornelius and his household baptized of the Holy Spirit. He was the most highly respected of the Apostles and so was key to favorable development of Jews towards Gentiles. Peter silenced the group and now they gave their ears to Paul and Barnabus as they shared the testimonies of their first missionary journey to Galatia. He spoke of the promise from Amos 9:11-12 and Isaiah 45:21 of the promise that God made that Gentiles will seek the Lord. He wisely mixed experience with scripture to verify that God was the one working through Him.
The best method of conflict resolution when differences arise regarding church practices is does it line up with scripture? It is sad that the church is so divided about issues that are scripturally based. We should be in agreement regarding the things of the world not being practiced in the church but sadly most disagreements come from how we interpret scripture, such as with grace and the law.
The Apostles and elders that were so divided suddenly through the hand of God became united and they decided that the only requirements for Gentiles would be that they did not eat meat offered to idols and abstained from sexual immoralities. The hundreds of Jewish laws were brought down to two. These two were what was highlighted because of the pagan idolatrous practices that would be offensive to God who is a jealous God and hates idolatry.
The focus for Gentiles would not be what not to do but what Christ has done. The complexity of the law was not required they could now just enjoy the simplicity of relationship with Jesus who through faith in Him changes us supernaturally from the inside out.
The apostles and elders then selected leaders to accompany Paul and Barnabus to support the work they were doing and witness it firsthand. Letters were written by the council to take with them to have read at the Gentile churches of what they established so that the people would no longer be deceived. As the churches received this message they rejoiced of the freedom they could now enjoy.
The chapter ends with additional conflict that we will deal with in the next devotion.