[Note: At this point, our survey of Biblical history will again pick up speed as we move quickly through the second half of the Book of Acts. Beginning in Acts 16, the rest of the book will focus on the missionary work of Paul. I have to admit that I regret skimming this entire section in one post, but I believe that many people are more familiar with these stories and we have (fairly recently) preached through the books of Acts as a congregation. At the least, I hope that this survey will not only help to give us a big picture of biblical history, but also stimulate interest to return and read some of these books more fully.]
After the early church settles the matter of Gentiles inclusion and the ceremonial law at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, the rest of the book focuses on Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Chapters 16-17 cover Paul’s second missionary journey (the first was before the Jerusalem council in Acts 13-14.) Chapters 18-20 will cover his third missionary journey. In chapter 21 Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and the remainder of the book follows his ministry while imprisoned. The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, but “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:31.)” What we can learn from these chapters is that Jesus is continuing to build his church as he empowers his followers to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth”. (Remember Acts 1:8.) As this happens, we see these two principle truths emerge. First, it is happening by the power of God. Second, Jesus is using people to do it.
Sometimes, the power of God shows up in such unexpected ways that we are reminded that this could never happen without him. In chapter 16 he calls Paul supernaturally to change direction, then a demon is cast out which causes opposition, then a church is planted after divine intervention in prison. At the close of the book, we pick up the story in chapter 28 after Paul is miraculously spared from a shipwreck and then he gains a hearing among the island people when God protects him from a snakebite. In all of these things, we can see God working through both blessing and suffering to build his church. The large pattern of the story is completely out of Paul’s control, but God is working none the less.
But, in the midst of it we see something else. Paul also makes plans and takes initiative. He develops strategies for his missionary journeys, he raises funds, and he sends reports to the churches. We should not think that Paul simply wakes up each day and “goes with the flow.” He has a plan and a strategy. When in doubt, he tries to go to places where the gospel is not yet known, and seems to target larger urban centers. He intentionally goes to synagogues and looks for Jewish people to reason with (17:2,10; 18:4,19.) He also goes to the Areopagus, where the Greek philosophers meet, and reasons with them (17:22.) In each case, he reasons with people in ways that they can understand. This is part of a clear missions strategy.
So, what do we make of this? We can clearly see that the mission that Jesus gives to his church is always accomplished in his power, but always through his people. We never see Jesus act without using a member of his church. On the other hand, we never see the church grow in fruitfulness without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, the activity is through human initiative. That is, Paul makes plans and carries them out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Other times, it is completely a God thing. For example, we know that Paul wanted to go to Rome, but the way he reached Rome was as an imperial prisoner who appealed his case to Caesar. Furthermore, no one could have thought up the strategy of starting the Philippian church by getting arrested, then refusing to leave after an earthquake. Faithfulness in ministry means both human planning and dependence upon God’s power and leading. The gospel advances by any means necessary.
Reflect: What plans are you making in your personal life to minister to the people that God has put in your sphere of influence? Are you praying and seeking God’s power to accomplish this?
Connect: In his letter to the Philippian Church, Paul reminds them that they have a responsibility to act, but that they must rely on the power of God to do everything.
Phil. 2:13 “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
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This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.