Acts 19

Read Acts 19.

The city of Ephesus occupied an important place in the New Testament, and here in Acts 19 we read about Paul’s first contact with this city. You know about the letter we call “Ephesians” that Paul wrote to the church there. He also sent Timothy there, in his place, later on Paul also wrote and sent the letters we call 1 & 2 Timothy to him while Timothy was in Ephesus. Finally, Ephesus was one of the seven churches in Revelation that Jesus spoke to (Rev 2:1). So we read in this chapter the origin story of what would become an important church in the New Testament days.

Things began powerfully there. Paul arrived in Ephesus and found twelve men (v. 7) who were described as “disciples” (v. 1). They were disciples of John, however, because they had not yet heard of Jesus (v. 4). Still, they were faithful to the truth they did have which was the teaching and baptism of John. God sent Paul to them to complete their discipleship by bringing them to Jesus (v. 4) and, when he taught them the gospel they showed the same signs of faith that the original disciples showed (Acts 2:4) and the first Gentile believers also showed (Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-18).

After three months of teaching in the synagogue (v. 8), Paul faced opposition–first from the Jews who did not receive Jesus (v. 9), then from Jewish leaders who tried to claim Jesus’ power for their own reasons (vv. 13-16), then the idol worshipping Gentiles who saw their livelihood threatened (vv. 17-41). God used Paul powerfully both to do miracles delivering people from Satan’s power (vv. 11-12) and to spread the gospel to the region around Ephesus (vv. 9-10). But, God did all of that in the middle of strong opposition from many sides.

That seems to be a pattern throughout church history; wherever God is working powerfully, Satan is always bringing strong opposition from as many directions as possible. It makes sense–doesn’t it?–that Satan would push back as powerfully as he can where God is working powerfully.

So don’t be discouraged if God is using you in the lives of others. There will be opposition and the enemy will seek to discourage you and derail your faithfulness. Just keep doing what God is blessing and keep praying for his power to overcome the opposition you face.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13 today. This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved all the time and everyone who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 8-10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?