Today is Missions Sunday, a day in which we want to emphasize the mission of the church and how we are collectively going about serving the world that God has called us to. We not only financially support people in our own community but also in countries around the world. We are involved in radio broadcasts, personal evangelism, leadership training, caring for orphans, bible translation, and church planting. We have been helping start three new churches each year in South American for the past 20 years, which means we have helped plant 60 churches in South America. These ministries need our continued support to thrive and advance God’s message of love and grace to people who are in need.
What is equally important and more personal to each of us is the understanding that we are called by God to live a missional life. God created us for a purpose, and we are part of God’s mission to our world. We all have a part to play. Every Christian is, in a sense, a missionary because that word simply means ‘sent one.’ We have been sent by God into the world in which we live. Our mission field is before us every day.
Let us examine the early church and how believers were empowered by God to bring the gospel to their world despite obstacles and be inspired and instructed by their example. The greatest obstacle to sharing our faith is what is happening within our own soul. Mediocrity, compromise and indifference to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives will deaden the influence of our faith life. Each generation, as well as different regions of our world, face different challenges and opposition to a dynamic spiritual life in Christ. Jesus promised that He would build His church and the gates of hell would not prevail over it. One of the great temptations of every age is to be lulled into sleep or apathy. Compromise with the values of the world means that for the most part the church is then left alone, but the key to the church’s advancement against the powers of darkness is the internal condition of our hearts as His people. When we are living a dynamic spirit-filled life we will be entering into some challenges where God wants to reveal Himself to us in a powerful way. We will discover those threats to this missional life that God will empowers us for. In Acts 8 we discover three threats to dynamic Christianity and how God’s power worked in spite of these challenges.
THE FIRST THREAT TO LIVING A MISSIONAL LIFE IS BEING SILENCED
When we are not communicating our faith through life example, word, and deed we have been spiritually disabled for the spiritual life that God has called us to. Often it happens through busyness, wrong priorities, fear, and ignorance. Many are silent because they do not know what to say or how to begin. Let me remind each of us that we have a story to tell and a message of hope to offer to others. We also need to expect some resistance in the form of persecution. One proof of a missional life is that we will experience persecution. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).” Here we find the church being persecuted because of their bold witness. Whenever we speak up, we can expect threats in order to silence us. What strikes me in the first seven chapters of the book of Acts is the Spirit directed boldness that was impacting the city of Jerusalem. Even though they were threatened repeatedly, it did not silence the early church leaders, nor the people who were experiencing God’s transforming power in their lives. As a result of Stephen’s death, it seems like the pent-up anger and hostility were now released. The church was experiencing tremendous persecution.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.[i]
Even in persecution, the message now takes wings. “But the dispersion through persecution creates a band of missionaries, not refugees.”[ii] John MacArthur writes: “Satan’s attempt to stamp out the church’s fire merely scattered the embers and started new fires around the world.”[iii] What was meant to destroy the church only caused greater growth. The message was now carried to wherever these persecuted people were fleeing to.
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.[iv]
The word translated ‘destroy’ is also translated ‘ravaged’. It is the picture of a wild animal tearing apart its prey. This persecution was very severe so that even women were imprisoned. Persecution comes in various forms and degrees from avoidance, to being slandered, to losing one’s goods, physical abuse, and even the loss of life itself. There are believers who are suffering intense persecution around our world today, simply because they are followers of Christ. Some of you may be suffering in your relationship with family members because of your faith. Jesus told us that if the world hated him, it would also hate us.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world. That is why the world hates you.
Remember the words I spoke to you: No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.[v]
In Acts 8:1-4, we find a church under extreme pressure where people were losing their material possessions, dragged off to jail, and families separated by the intense rage set off at Stephen’s death. Most scholars believe that it was the Greek-speaking believers that were under the fire of persecution. While the apostles remained behind, those who had embraced the teaching under Stephen were in the greatest dangers. It could be that the Hebrew believers were more conservative, more in step with keeping the law, and therefore were less of a threat.
However, as they were scattered they would not be silenced. It states that they went everywhere preaching the gospel. This is not formal preaching, rather it is communicating in a conversational manner the good news about Jesus. The language literally means gossiping the gospel. What would God rather have; a scattered church preaching the word everywhere or a gathered church absolutely silent because of its compromise with evil? We have a moral responsibility to those without Christ to share this good news of God’s love and forgiveness, even though there is a cost involved.
What silences us today? Is it our fear of what others may think of us? Do we have a lack of concern for others? Or is it a lack of conviction that people without Christ are perishing? A church that is passive, localized in its scope, and concerned only with its own needs can easily be squeezed into society’s values without a whimper. We must not only look to our personal interests, but begin to minister, even in a sacrificial way to those who are in need. If we answer that we are too busy, we may find Christ asking us what we are busy doing.
THE SECOND THREAT TO LIVING A MISSIONAL LIFE IS DECEPTION
We can be seduced and deceived by what appears to be reality. How often people are tempted to embrace a counterfeit?
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is rightly called the Great Power.’
They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery.[vi]
Luke is showing in this chapter the progression of the gospel from Jerusalem to Samaria. Ultimately the book of Acts takes us beyond those geographical regions to the farthest reaches of their world.
A. One reason for deception is embracing a form of spirituality that does not originate in God.
How many people are practicing a form of spirituality today that is Satanic in nature? William Larkin challenges us:
The tarot cards of psychic readers, the crystals of New Age devotees and the amulets of a witch doctor are common in many societies today. Many are following magic to find the power to cope with life.[vii]
The popularity of spirituality is growing, unfortunately many are looking in the wrong direction for answers and hope. They are living in a state of self-deception. John MacArthur writes, “It’s a wrong view of self, salvation, the Spirit and sin, that leads to a false faith.”[viii] In other words, if we have a wrong view of life, it means that we will trust in things or people other than Christ and Him alone. Here in Samaria, they were looking to a man who had amazed them, making himself out to be someone greater than what he truly was. Our culture today has deified humanity. We have a low view of God and a high view of humanity. Whenever we live with that mindset, we will not see ourselves as sinners in need of a savior or we will look for salvation in all the wrong places. There are a lot of self-satisfied people in danger of self-destruction.
B. The power of God demonstrates that the plan of salvation is found only in Christ.
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.
When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.
For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
So there was great joy in that city.[ix]
God, once again, was backing up the message by the demonstration of the Spirit over Satan’s kingdom and power. People were being delivered and healed.
C. The best way to expose the false is by practicing the truth.
When what is real is seen, the false must give way. This means that we live out the truth, not merely speak it.
But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Simon himself believed and was baptized, and he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.[x]
D. The reality of the gospel crossed racial lines.
What we need to understand is the tension and animosity between Jews and Samaritans. Now as Philip is preaching and the community is responding, reports reach the church in Jerusalem where Peter and John are sent. When they arrive, they notice that the gift of the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to them.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.
When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus
Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.[xi]
E. The charlatan exposed.
There is nothing worse than someone who is using the things of God to manipulate others. This is the story of Simon. His actions help coin a term called simony; which is the buying or selling of sacred things, like offices or positions. In Simon’s case he wanted to buy God’s power for his own purposes. He wanted to use the things of God to restore his mastery over the people.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’
Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right with God.
Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.
For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’
Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’[xii]
How often are people taken in by gifted people who lack godly character?
THE THIRD THREAT TO LIVING A MISSIONAL LIFE IS EARTHLY SUCCESS
When things are going great, it is often difficult to move at God’s prompting to a place of obscurity. There is a human desire to be where the ‘action’ is. We all want to be where God is moving. Yet Philip, who was experiencing a mighty move of the Spirit of God in Samaria, is directed elsewhere and of all places he is directed to a wilderness. One of the dangers in our lives is to strictly evaluate our life based on productivity, rather than obedience to God’s revealed will in our lives. Biblical success is not defined by what we achieve, rather it is seen by when we obeyed God. One way of keeping us from making difficult but obedient choices is our present or past successes. What we discover is that God is concerned as much for an individual as he is for an entire community. We need to remember that God knows what He is doing. It was the Holy Spirit that directed Jesus into the wilderness. God always has a purpose for directing our lives into the wilderness. Luke reminds us in his gospel.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.[xiii]
In the case of Jesus, he was directed into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus then comes out of the wilderness not only filled with the Spirit but in power. In Acts 8, Philip is directed by an angel of the Lord to a desert road, for a different reason. There on that road is a person that God wants to reach.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road-the desert road-that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’
So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Kandake, (which means queen of the Ethiopians). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,[xiv]
Charles Erdman insightfully states regarding this text.
Opportunities are found in the most unexpected places. These opportunities are fleeting. The Spirit said go, and Philip ran. We need to work, for Christ demands immediate obedience to every prompting of his Spirit. The way is prepared for all who obey the voice of the Spirit.[xv]
We need to be faithful to what God has called us to. We may not all be called to share the gospel to multitudes but like the early believers who left Jerusalem, we can be sharing our faith with those individuals God is bringing us into contact with. What Philip could not see was the impact that this Ethiopian eunuch would have upon his nation. Most scholars attribute the founding of Christianity in Ethiopia to this moment. Philip simply obeyed God.
What are those threats to a missional life? To silence us, the enemy fosters persecution to leave us in ignorance, he brings deception through false messengers to keep us from making difficult but obedient choices, and he can keep us focused on present or past successes. Let us pray that God will empower us afresh in order to effectively live a dynamic, missional life.
[i] Acts 8:1b, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] William J. Larkin Jr., Acts, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, Il: Inter Varsity Press, 1995), 124.
[iii] John MacArthur Jr., Acts 1-12, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago, Il; Moody Press, 1994), 229.
[iv] Acts 8:3-4.
[v] John 15:18-20.
[vi] Acts 8:9-11.
[vii] William J. Larkin Jr., Acts, 125.
[viii] John MacArthur Jr., Acts 1-12, 239.
[ix] Acts 8:5-8.
[x] Acts 8:12-13.
[xi] Acts 8:14-17.
[xii] Acts 8:18-24.
[xiii] Luke 4:1-2a.
[xiv] Acts 8:26-27.
[xv] Charles Erdman, work unknown.