Acts 19 tells about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. While there he performs many miracles and heals many people and “The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing”. While there the silversmiths who made the shrines to Artemis conspired against him because the Christian converts stopped buying their profitable shrines and they were losing their livelihood. So of course they formed a mob and tried to get Paul and the Christians in trouble with the law and they tried to drum up religious fervor to protect their business. In the end it was ok for Paul, but this had to be a hindrance to his mission.
In this story the followers of Artemis were not just rioting against Paul and the other missionaries, but against their friends, neighbors, and family who had converted to Christianity.
If you are a Christian and have non-Christian friends then they will often try to bring you down to their level. They see that you are changing and they do not want to change, just like the silversmiths, so they will try to do anything they can to go back to the “good o’l days” when you were living in sin. You have to watch out because these people can have a strong influence on your life and will erode your faith if you let them. This type of thing happened to Paul several times, and in some instances he just had to leave that city and in others he was able to stick around and continue to minister in that city. Maybe if you have given your life over to Christ you will need to leave some friendships, or maybe you can help that person to come to Christ themselves, it will take prayer to know what is needed in your situation.
Acts 18 details the cities that Paul visited on his way from Jerusalem to Greece and some of the highlights in those cities. While in Corinth Paul again has issues with the Jewish community there and instead finds a Gentile man named Titius Justus who was a worshiper of God. Paul also has a vision from God in which God says,
“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9,10)
I understand why Paul would need this encouragement with the number of cities that he had been thrown out of after annoying the local Jewish population with his message.
What I find interesting is the fact that Paul is the first missionary to set foot on the continent of Europe and just recently we read about the first convert in the area, yet even in this “heathen” land filled with idols and false gods God is working in people’s lives and has people who worship him. These people do not know the gospel and need to hear about Jesus desperately, but even without that knowledge they are seeking God and worshiping him. We see this today in many of the mission fields that we send people into. The people do not know about Christ, but it is obvious that God has been working in their community to prepare them to hear. This is why it is so important that we get out there and evangelize. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Then while traveling in Ephesus in modern day Turkey, Paul runs into a man named Apollos who was a Jew that knew his scriptures (Old Testament) thoroughly and knew only the message of John the Baptist. With only this information he was boldly speaking about Jesus and the fact that he was the son of God. He was off on some things, but he was on fire for God and was running with it.
These verses are encouraging because they show that you do not need to have everything figured out theologically in order to follow God. You don’t need a master’s degree or years of training for him to be working in your life. Now I do think that seeking truth should be an important part of any believer’s life, but all that is needed to get started with God is faith in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to work in your life.
In Acts 17 we see three very different cities and their different responses to the Gospel.
Thessalonica hears the word and some Jews and a lot of Greeks believed. But other Jews did not like how Christianity changed their culture. They liked the status quo and therefore used their influence to stir up trouble for Paul and got him kicked out of the city. Similar to the rich young ruler there are some people that are very happy with life as it is and just cannot accept the changes required to follow Christ and will fight it tooth and nail to hold on to their old lives. We cannot hesitate and look back when we follow Christ.
Berea is very different. The Jews there hesitated when they heard Paul’s message, but they studied the scriptures and saw that Jesus did indeed fulfill the prophecies and they believed. It is very important that we seek out truth and question things that we hear and compare them to scripture. There are too many people in the world today that hold a certain belief just because their pastor or their denomination told them so. Those people might be right and might have a lot of wisdom and knowledge to pass on, but at the end of the day I am the one that is responsible for my own salvation and I need to know that what I believe is the truth. Deep study is a great way to make your faith your own.
Lastly there was Athens, which had been a hub of culture and ideas for hundreds of years and had idols of many different gods from many different cultures. The Athenians knew that God was out there, but they were searching for him in all the wrong places. There are many people around us today that similarly feel a need for something more in their lives, but instead of finding the one true God they fill that void with idols. Those idols come in many different forms such as jobs, significant others, money, or belongings. Even though the Athenians were searching in all the wrong places at least they were searching and were therefore open to listening to Paul’s message. I think that Athenian culture is one of the most similar cultures from Bible times to our culture today, and I think that God is likely similarly unhappy at the number of idols that we have placed in our lives.
So, to conclude, I would encourage you to let go of your old life, study the scriptures and make them your own, and remove the idols from your life. If we can do these things then we can consider ourselves to be of noble character like the Bereans.
As Paul and his group were traveling around what is modern day Turkey they kept having messages from the holy spirit telling them that they were not allowed to preach in that area, and that they need to go farther, and eventually led them to Greece. With this the Gospel made its first direct contact with the “Western World” in the city of Philippi. It is here that Paul converts Lydia who is the first known convert in Europe. As they were going along and preaching Paul got in trouble with some of the local officials and they were thrown in prison because of a popular uprising against them. It was in this prison that Paul and Silas were singing praises to God after being beaten, and an earthquake came and freed them, but they stayed and preached to the jailor instead of running away. Because of their unusual behavior and their powerful message the jailor believed and his whole family was baptized.
Throughout this story we see that the people that Paul spends the most time with and interacts with one on one are the ones that he has the most influence on. Lydia and the jailor both spend time with Paul and invite him to their homes and listen to his message and believe. The leaders of the city who get mad at Paul only see how his message is disrupting their business and how their culture and religion is different from their own and throw them out of town. In my experience this seems to hold true, that the people you spend time with are the ones that you are going to impact the most for Christ. Many people will post on social media about different parts of Christian culture or parts of their Christian life, but to unbelievers seeing that, all they see is that you are different, just like the city leaders in Paul’s day. Without being deeply involved in your life they are never going to see the benefits of a life that is free from the bondage of sin. Everybody knows that everybody puts forth their best image online and we have all seen enough stuff online to be skeptical of most of it. The best way to spread the gospel is to be right there day to day with people and praising God even in the worst of times. This is how they will know that you are truly different.
In Acts 15 we see a fundamental theological question that the early church had to answer, and how they went about handling the situation. Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection represented a radical change in how mankind interacted with God. We no longer need to sacrifice for our sins because Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, and has fulfilled the law and the prophets. The problem is that the Law of Moses was the very foundation of basically all of Jewish culture and when Jesus ascended it was not completely clear to the apostles as to what to do with the Law of Moses. Because Christianity started in Jerusalem and then spread out from there to the rest of the world the early Christian leaders all came from a Jewish background and some of them tried to force their culture and the Law of Moses onto the new Gentile believers. To them this would seem natural because in their mind this is how you interact with God and what he expects from you, and has been for over a thousand years. They had not caught up completely with all of the changes that Jesus brought. The way I picture this is like a person who messed up their leg and needs to walk on crutches for a while, and then after the doctor performs a surgery that completely fixes their leg they decide to continue to use the crutches after that, and then also try to convince their friends that they should start to use crutches too even though that isn’t necessary at all and will only inhibit your friends. This is basically the conclusion that the early church leaders come to and they tell the gentiles that they do not need to follow the Law of Moses because it would hinder the gentiles from coming to God. They also tell the gentile believers that they need to make sure that they are not participating in the aspects of their old gentile beliefs that might cause issues for them. Just as the early church leaders saw that the Law of Moses would be a stumbling block to other people, they saw that aspects of the idol worship in many gentile areas would be a stumbling block as well.
I think it is very important that we recognize that there are many aspects of our modern secular American culture that are going to be stumbling blocks for our spiritual walk, and that we need to leave many of those things behind if we are going to devote our lives to Christ. This is not easy and was a very divisive issue in the early church, and has the potential to be divisive in our churches today. Some things as seemingly small as the use of drums and guitar in a church service can be very contentious in some churches. This passage also shows us how Paul dealt with the issue so as to not cause division. He was one of the first people preaching to the gentiles and had not had a lot of contact with the early church leaders in Jerusalem. Instead of trying to handle this issue by himself and decree what he knew the Holy Spirit was telling him he went to Jerusalem and discussed with the church leaders and showed them that God was working in the gentiles and that was proof that they did not need to follow the Law. Once they agreed this helped to legitimize Paul’s message and began the process of unifying the Church on this issue.
“The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit…” Acts 13:4
Is God calling you? When’s the last time you’ve looked and watched somebody go on a missions trip? Go up front at church and speak? Or teach a class? Do you ever think ‘I should be doing that.’ Maybe God is calling you to do that. When have you ever allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to you and send you out to do God’s work? God has equipped and called each and every one of us to go do great things for the glory of His Kingdom. Nothing brings more joy than recognizing the purpose that God has made you for. Heavenly Father, help me to open my mind and heart to where You are calling me.
Open your ears and heart and listen for God’s voice in the less obvious places.
“We tell you the good news. What God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” Acts 13: 32–33
I have served in many churches throughout the United States. I have been blessed to go out and have many chances to work with youth and adults alike. To see ministries started, buildings put up and peoples’ lives changed. But for me nothing compares to watching someone who serves the Lord. Men and women from our congregations serving me, helping, guiding me. Missionaries since Paul and Barnabas have risked their lives to spread God’s word in my place. Pastors and teachers have come before me and expressed their faith so that I could have a chance to know the LORD.
And Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Nothing I can do can compare with these sacrifices, and spreading God’s word is a way for me to remember my blessings and express my thanks.
Lord, show me where I can serve you and give me the strength to respond. Help me to express thanks for others’ sacrifices through action.
“but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening: he thought he was seeing a vision.” Acts 12:9 “Pinch me! I must be dreaming.” We are not so different from Peter. When miraculous things happen, we doubt that they are real. When we finally accept the reality, we make ourselves crazy trying to explain it rationally.
I have had many moments where God has worked in a miraculous way. And I was so thankful for those moments at that time. But then those fade and you begin to question whether that was God or if it was just you hoping it was God. We all have those doubts. We have to ask – do we believe it’s God…do we want it to be God? We all have those moments where God is speaking to us and we have to be able to recognize His voice. The more we know God the more we are able to recognize miracles for what they are. God working in our lives.
Mighty God of Miracles, we confess that we try to explain your miracles rather than enjoy them. Help us to accept that you use all of your creation including other people to work your miracles. Open our hearts to your generous gifts and use us to deliver your miracles to others.
Next time something amazing happens to you or someone you know, don’t try to explain it away. Accept it as a miraculous gift from God. Give Him the Glory!
On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” Acts 12:21-24
In Matthew 22:37, the first and greatest commandment for Christians is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. Likewise, the 10 Commandments warn us against idolatry. In today’s passage, Paul talks about Herod’s meeting with the people of Tyre and Sidon. Once Herod won their approval, they praised and idolized him as a god. Giving another the praise God deserves is turning away from Him who gave you life and a way to salvation, including the death of His Son. What more must God do to prove how much He loves you and deserves your love in return? We can even lose sight of His authority by relying too heavily on a fellow Christian for guidance. Give all your praise and honor to Him.
“I was in the town of Joppa and was praying when I fell sound asleep and had a vision.” Acts 11:5
Peter experienced dreams. What about us? How do we hear from God? When God gives us the urge to follow, we cannot rest until we complete the task that has been assigned. When it’s right, you will be moved to do it.
He rewards our faithfulness. I pray often for my spirit to be stirred. To move me towards God and lead me to the adventure He has planned for me. I pray for the wisdom to know when He is speaking to me. I ask Him to help me be fearless in His name. Are you willing to be obedient, to have a life of changing moments? It’s not a burden to follow the Lord, it’s a true privilege.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Acts 11:22-24
Defining moments for any of us can be loss or can be about God’s great grace that can transform us in the midst of sorrow. Through times of suffering we can see that through God’s grace we can achieve greater depth, compassion, joy, and appreciation of simple blessings. This story in Acts reminds us of the great persecution and suffering that was going on at the time. Yet Barnabas (the great encourager) arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God and he was glad. What a gift to live outside the box—to trust in God’s great grace. There is such depth in the faithfulness of God in our lives. If you are going through a difficult circumstance, a tough choice, a rough path in your life, try recalling God’s love, faithfulness and His great grace.
God, thank you for the gift of your great grace. May we trust that your grace is sufficient for us.
“Do not call anything unclean that God has made pure.”
In Acts 10 Peter went up to his roof and closed his eyes, and God opened them with this vision. For those of us who do not come from a Jewish heritage, this is one of the most important stories in the Bible. In this story, the disciples come to realize that salvation through Christ is available to everybody everywhere, not only to the Jewish people. And God has given to us part of the job of spreading His good news. That can be a frightening challenge but remember that He will first do the hard part Himself. In these verses God prepared Cornelius’ heart to be ready to hear the news before He had him talk with Peter; and He is preparing the hearts of people in your life to hear the gospel from you. Maybe it is your school friend whom you study with, your brother who has grown steadily away from the church, or your coworker you’ve been working alongside for years. Nobody is “out-of-bounds” – the Lord wants a relationship with each of His children.
“The Lord is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Father, please open my eyes today and reveal the people in my life who You have prepared to hear the gospel.
“…if we want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.” Acts 10:35 (Message) Most of us agree we want God. But are we ready to do as He says? In this chapter of Acts, Cornelius, a Gentile, is told by God in a vision to send for Peter – a foreigner – a Jew. God gives no reason; Cornelius asks no questions – he just does it. And then waits. And when Peter comes, Cornelius invites him in and waits again, “ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us.” Do we trust God enough to simply do what he asks and then wait for Him to reveal what it means? We are a generation of questioners, of action. I’ve always been full of questions and NOT good about waiting. How hard it is for me to just listen to God without questioning and then wait – wait for God to reveal His plans, Himself. But the times I manage to do this; when I usually ignore my natural instincts to do things my way, to “make it happen.” But the times I actually listen to that voice in my heart that says, “wait and listen for God’s direction”, those times are ALWAYS better. Father God, thank you for knowing what’s best for us. Help us to learn to wait and listen for your Word. This week, try to quiet your heart so you can hear what your Father is saying. And then do it!
Saul was a man of deep convictions. He was deeply convicted that he was doing the right thing in the eyes of God. Not only did he feel he was right in the eyes of God, I believe he truly thought his vehement persecution of Christians was God-honoring work. Perhaps he even thought he was on a special mission from God. Saul was a Pharisee and Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the law. I think the law was like a blanket of security for him, a metaphorical checklist that he could check off point by point and be assured he was in good standing with God. How dare these Jesus followers, pushing their radical message of grace and echoing the teachings of Jesus that the contents of one’s heart far outweighed any outward action. Heresy! Something HAD to be done!
Is it possible that we are deeply convicted about something that we feel is God-approved- or even God-honoring- that in fact might not be? While we are not likely to have a flashing, blinding light from heaven to illuminate our paths and pinpoint the error of our ways, rest assured, our Heavenly Father does illuminate our paths. We have assurance from the well-known verse found in Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We are also told in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (NASB). Our Damascus Road illumination often comes in the form of scripture. We must be brave enough to continually compare our convictions up against scripture and prayerfully consider if those convictions resonate with the heart of God. In many ways our Christian walk is like a perpetual Damascus-road experience- if we are open to it. If we allow Him, God will continually refine our hearts and shape us. We read in Isaiah 64:8: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
The beauty of being a Christ-follower is that we can have a new identity in Christ. We become a new creation. Saul’s conversion was marked by a change in name to Paul. Does our name-tag still read Saul? Or are we continually striving to be a Paul for Christ?