My dad grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. Each year my grandfather and his sons would prepare the fields for harvest by planting whatever they felt they needed to grow that year. They had to be careful not to grow the same thing in the same field year after year; instead, they rotated their crops.
One year they would plant corn. Another year, they would plant cotton. But you know what? Each year at harvest time, they would reap what they had sown that year. Never in my Granddaddy’s career as a farmer was he surprised when harvest time came. Never. If he planted corn, he reaped corn. If he planted cotton, he reaped cotton. Never once did he go out to harvest corn and find a field of cotton instead. Never.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul reminds his readers about the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. He says,
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Now, when I refer to the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, I’m not talking about the very popular belief of transactional religion where God is obligated to do something for you if you do something for Him. You’ll never find that in the Bible!
So what do you want to harvest spiritually? Looking back in five years, ten years, twenty years, where do you want to be in your walk with God? I can promise you that if you watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Radio without wisely screening what your eyes see and what your ears hear, you won’t get there. Unless you don’t want to see any growth in your walk with God. And that in itself is very telling.
If you want a close walk with God, you’ll have to do a lot of sowing of what you want to reap. Do you want to have a deep understanding of the things of God? Then you’ll need to sow a lot of time in God’s Word and prayer. You’ll need to share your faith. A lot. You’ll need to get involved in your church. You’ll need to give financially to support the work of God through your local church. You’ll have to go all-in with Spiritual Disciplines. And you’ll have to give up some things.
Whatever you want to reap in the future, you’ll need to sow. Now. And as a friend of mine once said, “This isn’t rocket surgery.”
God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow.
So sow wisely. And sow generously.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul delivers his defense to King Agrippa and Bernice. He tells his story of how he came to know the resurrected Jesus. He was a Jew’s Jew. He was a Pharisee’s Pharisee. And he persecuted those who embraced Jesus as the Messiah, even approving of the stoning of those who believed in Jesus.
Now, when I titled this post, I said that Paul apologizes to King Agrippa. This is a play on words. The Greek word behind the idea of giving a defense is the word from which we get “apology“. Peter uses the word in 1 Peter 3:15 where he encourages Believers to always be ready to give a reverent defense of our hope. The Greek word used here is the basis for apologetics, the branch of theology that provides proof for the Christian faith.
So to say that Paul apologized to King Agrippa, I don’t mean that Paul told the King, “I’m sorry.” Instead, Paul provided a defense, a testimony, for his faith. You can do that too. In fact, it would be very helpful to think a lot ahead of time about how you would go about giving your testimony.
How was your life before you came to know Jesus? What led up to taking up God’s offer of the great exchange? How have things changed since you made that life-changing decision?
Look back over today’s Bible reading. Notice how Paul crafted his testimony as I suggested in the previous paragraph. Get with a friend or relative and rehearse your testimony. Ask your “sparring partner” for suggestions on improving your testimony. I’m not saying you should change your story or lie about how you came to Christ. But what changes in the way you tell your story might make it more appealing to a different audience? For instance, Paul told his story several times in Acts. He didn’t say the exact same things each time he told it; he emphasized different things to different audiences. For instance, Paul knew that King Agrippa descended from Jewish ancestors. When he addressed the King, he brought that out. (Acts 26:26-27)
Practice giving your testimony to your Christian friends and family. When the time comes to tell unbelievers, you’ll find yourself well-prepared. Pray for encounters where you can tell other people about the most important decision of your life.
At the end of today’s Bible reading, we see Paul being left in a Roman prison for two years as Governor Festus attempts to do the Jews a favor. (Acts 23:27) What might seem to be a bad situation, God uses for His glory and for Paul’s good.
Dr. Luke tells us that Paul was put in prison by Governor Felix. He gave Paul a great deal of freedom and he gave his friends access to Paul to tend to his needs. (Acts 23:23) Dr. Luke also tells us that Felix called for Paul frequently to talk with him and hoped that he might be able to exact a bribe from Paul (and his friends). One might think that a lot of time was wasted with Paul not out on the mission field. But this isn’t all of the story.
Paul’s ministry wasn’t limited to his travels telling people about Jesus and planting churches. Paul did a lot of ministry from prison. What might otherwise look like wasted time was time well-spent in ministering to the churches he had planted. How did he do that? Paul wrote a lot. As his friends visited him, he was able to send letters to the churches, raising concerns he had with bad theology to bad relationships between people to encouraging people in their faith.
During these two years, Paul was right where God wanted him to be, doing exactly what God wanted him to be doing: building churches.
Do you ever feel that you’re wasting your time, especially when it comes to doing things God has called you to do? I’ve been there and done that. But it’s important to remember that it may not seem to us that anything is going on, God may be working behind the scenes to build into you things that otherwise might not be cultivated in you and those around you.
Ask God how He would have you to spend this time. What does He want you to do during this interim time? How can you maximize this time?
It’s during those times that God seems to be silent and we feel that we’re wasting our time that we need to press into Him and learn as much as possible about God and His ways. It’s during those times that we need to dig deep into our Bibles and spend extended time in prayer. And it’s during those times that we remember to reach out to other Believers and unbelievers to build relationships and tell them about Jesus Christ.
In today’s Bible reading Paul asked some disciples in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. (Acts 19:1-4)
Like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they had only heard of — and received — John’s Baptism; they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. When Paul told them the rest of the story, they were baptized in water and received the Holy Spirit, manifesting Him through tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6) This is the same manifestation we saw in Acts 2:4 when Jesus’ Disciples received the Holy Spirit and when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:46).
Although tongues and prophecy aren’t specifically mentioned when the Samaritans received the Spirit in Acts 8:17–18, Simon’s response seems to indicate something similar happened here as well.
Assuming that my inference is correct, there are only four places in the entire book of Acts where we’re told that the Holy Spirit manifested with tongues and prophecy. I find this significant in light of the over-emphasis seen in many churches and ministries in the past one hundred years. I say over-emphasis because so many insist that the Holy Spirit always manifests in these ways when people understand the whole Gospel.*
* By the whole Gospel, I’m referring to 1) the proclamation that of Jesus’ resurrection and accepting of Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for the sins of those who repent, 2) water baptism to symbolize the Believer’s union with Jesus’ death and Resurrection, and 3) the proclamation that God’s Holy Spirit indwells believers to empower them to live a holy life. The book of Acts (and the Gospels) is unique in that it describes people believing in the progressive revelation of God as it was being revealed: John’s baptism of repentance, belief in Jesus’ resurrection and immediate water baptism, and the receiving/baptism of the Holy Spirit. Those who only receive John’s baptism of repentance aren’t told of the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power. Later, when they hear of the Holy Spirit’s baptism, God manifests the Spirit in the same way (tongues and prophecy) to validate the person’s Holy Spirit baptism.
In other words, what Dr. Luke describes in Acts is not prescribed for the future church. In contrast to Acts, the Holy Spirit now takes up residence in the new Believer when they repent/believe/are saved and as he/she yields to His leading over time, the Spirit manifests in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) In fact, Paul says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually makes us Christians, uniting new Believers to the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Further, Paul urges Believers to be continually filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
In summary — and speaking generally, today, the operation of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy (for evangelism and equipping) is different today than it was in the book of Acts (for revelation and validation).
The Holy Spirit sovereignly gives Believers various spiritual gifts for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and equipping Believers to grow in their faith. No one gift is more — or less — valuable than any other. All spiritual gifts should be used for the service and glory of God rather than the Believer who has been given the gift(s) by God.
I know that some of what I have said here is up for debate among believers. These issues are not primary issues of faith; they are areas where Christians should be able to agree to disagree. My hope is that this brief devotional helps to shed some Biblical light on some questionable, commonly-held theology.
It’s important for each of us to be open-minded and teachable. There is so much that we don’t know and can learn from other people. However, if you’re too open-minded, you may lose the ability to form coherent thoughts and convictions. It seems that was the case in Athens.
In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us that, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” That’s a problem.
It’s easy to become enamored in “all things new”. But at some point, you have to be concerned with real-world stuff. King Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) They were so open-minded that their brains leaked out!
But there is one very good thing that comes out of this: The men of Athens constructed an altar to an unknown god … just in case they overlooked someone. Paul saw the monument and pounced! He used the altar as an inroad to open discussion. It’s important to note that at no point did Paul compromise his message to match the altar. When he began to talk about Jesus’ Resurrection, he had many of them hooked!
Peter encourages his readers to already be ready to give a defense for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) How easily could you create an object lesson to tell people the Gospel? Maybe it’s not a pagan altar. Maybe it’s a TV show or a movie. It could be just about anything. Anything that might open a door of conversation with an unbeliever. Whatever it is, remember to be true to the Gospel Message. Don’t twist the Bible to fit the conversation.
This can easily turn into a learning opportunity with another believer. Be iron for each other. (Proverbs 27:17) Listen to what they say about how you can improve your presentation. Then listen to them create an object lesson. Critique their presentation.