In addition to reviewing the once-for-all sacrifice Jesus gave for our atonement, today’s Bible reading includes one of the most compelling arguments for being regularly involved in a local church.
As a pastor, I often hear excuses from people who have no interest in going to church. One of the most popular arguments is that they can attend church online. True, you can watch any number of Bible teachers and preachers online and on TV. Some are better than others.
Honestly, you can get a lot of good Bible teaching online and on TV. But instruction and music aren’t the only reasons we go to church in the first place.
Let’s go back to why we meet as churches to begin with. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us in today’s Bible reading that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together. Why? So that we can “stir up each other to love and good works” and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25) We all need to be encouraged. We all need to be stirred up to love and good works. All of us.
I don’t care how good the preacher or Bible teacher is. You can’t be stirred up to love and good works and you can’t be encouraged with an online church experience, compared with an in-person church experience.
Besides, when you watch church on TV, you may not be watching a live-stream of a real worship service. Christian TV and radio ministries often heavily edit the content of their programs to meet time constraints. Instead of “watching church”, you may be watching a pre-packaged, edited production. I admit, before posting the audio of my sermons online, I run it through software to remove long pauses and then I remove coughs, sneezes, etc. But otherwise, I very rarely make any other kinds of edits.
Do I believe someone will be denied heaven because they don’t go to church? Of course not! There are times and seasons when it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed on Sunday Morning, much less to get dressed and make it to church. And there are times when you or people around you aren’t well and need to stay home.
But one thing you don’t need to do is to try to make excuses. If you are well — and sometimes when you aren’t well! — you need to be in church on a regular basis. You simply won’t be equipped for the work of your own personal ministry without it. Also, if you aren’t there, your fellow church members won’t benefit from the spiritual gifts that God has given to you to use in your church. So for your benefit and for the benefit of your church, you need to be there regularly.
As I type this, state and county Emergency Management Officials are doing something they’ve never done before. They are canceling all meetings and activities where there will be lots of people in attendance and in close proximity. This includes area churches and school districts. As a consequence of their unprecedented decisions, church leaders are having to make difficult decisions in light of the Covad-19 global pandemic. I live in Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Texas. Both Tarrant and Dallas Counties currently have “community spread” cases of Covad-19. In other words, people who have not traveled out of the country and who have not had contact with people who have traveled are testing positive for the virus. I pastor in the next county (Parker County) to the West of Tarrant County. As of right now, no one has canceled mass gatherings in our county. But I’m sure we will have to make decisions in the coming days as the virus continues to spread. Pray for us. Pray for people in our community. Pray for God to stop the spread of the virus. This is no time to panic. And this is no time to be calloused to those in our communities with fragile medical conditions.
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.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul and Barnabas flee persecution when they learn that both Jews and Gentiles in Iconium want to kill them. They come across a man who has been lame from birth and Paul tells him to stand up. When he does, the people of Lystra think that Paul and Barnabas are gods. The priest of Zeus tries to offer sacrifices to them and they quickly tell everyone that they are men just like everyone else there. (Acts 14:8-18)
The reason the people of Lystra think Paul and Barnabas are gods is because they don’t know any better. They have never heard the good news of the Gospel. Their polytheistic society didn’t know that there is only one true God and that these men were simply messengers. But they misunderstood the signs and wonders that God used to validate their message (Acts 14:3) and acted accordingly.
Shortly after this, the Jews of Iconia and Antioch come to Lystra and stone Paul, leaving him for dead. The Believers gather around him and he gets up and leaves for Derbe the next day with Barnabas. Later, they circled back and built up the churches and appointed local elders in the churches.
Now, I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but miraculous signs and wonders like Dr. Luke describes here aren’t observed as much these days — at least in Western society. I believe that God still operates in the miraculous realm. But most of the “big stuff” happens on the mission field, on the cutting edge of the mission movement where God uses the signs and wonders to draw attention and validate His message as He did in the book of Acts.
It’s very important to note that Jesus warned against making too much of the miraculous. In fact, in one of the scariest passages of Scripture, Jesus says that knowing Him is more important than commanding demons (Luke 10:20) and “doing the deal” (Matthew 7:21-23).
So the question is, do you know Him? If not, I’d love to introduce you. Drop me a line and let’s talk!
Several places throughout our reading through the book of Acts, including today’s Bible reading, various Apostles will stay in a certain area for an extended period of time. Today, it’s Barnabas and Saul who stay in Antioch for a year. (Acts 11:26) Why? Wasn’t it important for the Apostles to get as many converts as possible? Wouldn’t staying in one place for a while limit their reach?
It comes down to what is the purpose of a church. Is a church a place to make converts? Or is a church a place to make disciples? There is a huge difference between the two! Converts are people who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t charge His Disciples to make converts. He charged them to make Disciples. (Matthew 28:19) Nowhere in the Bible is anyone charged to make converts and immediately move on to the next place. And that’s why I have a problem with so many ministries that go into an area with an “evangelistic crusade” and quickly move on to the next city.
When I was a college student, Billy Graham visited our campus (UNC Chapel Hill) to deliver a series of lectures in Carmichael Auditorium. Carmichael is where the UNC Tarheels played basketball back in the day. His visit was billed as a lecture series, but it was essentially a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade. Being a college student with some well-connected Christian friends, I saw one of the keys to Graham’s success.
A year or so before Graham’s visit, students from several student ministries organized the event and worked behind the scenes to unite the ministries of Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Navigators. At Graham’s insistence, every person who responded to his altar call was to be contacted with a one-on-one visit within twenty-four hours of his/her decision. Why? Because Graham saw that disciples were more important than decision-makers. He wanted every decision-maker to become a disciple, someone who learned and became more like Jesus. It wasn’t enough to have several hundred or even several thousand people to make decisions to follow Jesus. Graham wanted people to follow and become like Jesus. And that can only happen when people who make decisions are connected with people who are already following Jesus.
New converts need to be fed and nurtured in their new faith. And for that to happen, they have to be plugged into discipleship ministries with other Believers who are growing in their faith, becoming more like Jesus. While learning about Jesus is important, becoming like Him is the most important thing.
What about you? Are you plugged into a discipleship ministry? Notice, I didn’t ask if you went to church. I didn’t ask if you went to Sunday School.
Going to church is a very important part of discipleship. So is Sunday School. So are small groups. But more important is being plugged in, getting to know — and being known by — other Believers on a deep level. And that can’t happen by just going to big worship services in a big church. It can’t happen by just going to small worship services in a small church. You have to connect.
Are you connected?
In today’s Bible reading, the Apostles come to a point where they realize they can’t do it all. And that’s a good thing!
People began accusing the Apostles of overlooking the Hellenistic (Gentile) widows and giving preference to Jewish widows. That may or may not have been the case, but the accusation was made.
Rather than deny that there was a problem or telling the people to get over it, the twelve Apostles summoned the help of other believers. “We can’t do it all. Actually, trying to do it all is causing us to neglect our main calling. We need help. We — the ordained — need to delegate all of the ministry activities to you — the ordinary — so that we can dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:2-4)
At this point, the Apostles more deeply understood the ramifications of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. The Holy Spirit would empower ordinary people — not just ordained people — to do the work of ministry. The Kingdom-sized task of expanding the Kingdom of God through reaching out and equipping would require the gifts of Kingdom Citizens. For this specific task, they appointed only seven. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would serve tables. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would do menial — and important life-affirming and life-sustaining — tasks. Yes, even menial tasks require the equipping power of the Holy Spirit.
No task in the Kingdom of God can be done adequately without the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Kingdom Citizens. No task. Even serving food to widows.
If serving food to widows requires Holy Spirit empowerment, how much more does administering the business of the church, teaching and discipling, hospitality, evangelism, and church planting? How much more does preaching and leading of worship of the King?
No Kingdom Citizen can fulfill his/her Kingdom calling without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Are you walking in His power? Are you relying on Him to guide and direct you in whatever ministry He has called you to do?
Ask God to fill you anew today. Ask for a fresh outpouring on you and your tasks for today.
All Kingdom Citizens need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit because we all leak. (Ephesians 5:18)
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV)