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Leave It All On The Field

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:17-35.

Paul withheld nothing from the disciples he made for Christ. Twice he mentions ministering to them with tears. He also says he is innocent of their blood because he withheld nothing they needed to know. Why their blood? Because the counsel of God is a matter of life and death. And he does not withhold the dire warnings; that false teachers will come to slay the flock. By the way, some are already in the room. It’s important to be vigilant against the schemes of the devil. Advancing the kingdom is warfare, not a Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Most of my life’s regrets are not things I have said and done. They are things I have NOT said and NOT done. There are countless times I have kept silent because I didn’t want to start something unpleasant. Or maybe I just told myself I was putting it off until later, until it was too late. Now i realize that if Jesus’s promise that I would be hated for His name’s sake is to come true, I might have to insert His name more often than I have. I might have to act in His name, as He has commanded. In short, if I’m not using the name of Jesus to cause trouble, I might be doing it wrong.

Just look at the life of Paul: tears, suffering, prison, beatings, plots on his life, warnings against apostasy. Do you know anyone like this today? I don’t. And I’ve been around awhile. Something is missing in the church in America. And it’s not just healing and miracles.

Mostly Peaceful Pagans

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly. Acts 19:23-41.

If one person rejects his idols and turns to the living God, it’s no big deal. If half the town does it, it creates a panic! Idol sales go down. Silver smiths are laid off. Offerings at the shrines plummet. And suddenly, you are some sort of a doofus for your devotion to that graven image. So I am actually pretty impressed that the Ephesians got control of themselves. Some Americans have found more contrived reasons for burning their neighborhoods.

Our idols are a little less obvious, but are no less consuming of our time, treasure, and devotion. A large wave of anti-consumerist frugality could do more to crash the economy than the government’s reaction to covid-19. Of course, if you didn’t lust for money and possessions so much, you could step out of that American Dream hamster wheel and contemplate what it means to seek first the kingdom of God.

It is so easy to fall prey to the pursuit of earthly possessions in the land of plenty. You have to lean into God and His word to avoid it, and it’s still hard. Some scriptures to remember are:

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11. NLT

-I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12. NIV

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26. ESV

When Demons Know Your Name

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. Acts 19:11-20.

No one can say that Paul lead an inconsequential life. He spread the knowledge of God and the good news of Jesus Christ all across Asia minor. His writings became part of the biggest international bestseller ever. And even demons knew his name. That is because he engaged and challenged the powers of darkness everywhere he went, both in this world and the next.

In the world of video games there are NPC, non-player characters, that just fill out the landscape but do not act on their own. They are mindless pieces of code that bark out words or phrases while only appearing like actual players. This past year I first learned that being called an NPC was an insult in political circles, for pretty obvious reasons. There is a lot of mindless spouting in politics today, and few actual players that make a difference.

The religious world also has its share of NPC. And it is easy to become one. Just use a few catch phrases that mark you as a believer, but then just blend into the scenery, and make no moves that cause any trouble. That’s somebody else’s job someone else’s calling. Or, you can get in the game, put yourself at risk, and actively oppose the forces of darkness. Make them say your name.

Receive the Holy Spirit

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. Acts 19:1-10.

Paul is not content to preach only at one of the port cities. He goes inland to find people he can tell about Jesus. When he gets to Ephesus, he meets some people who already believe in Jesus! Then he quizzes them about their baptism, and whether they have received the Holy Spirit.

Paul was not only telling people the good news, that the Messiah had come and taken away their sins. He was also imparting a supernatural gift, deputizing them to reach others. This may have had a lot to do with the growth of the first century church.

Our reticence to even talk about the Holy Spirit, let alone receive and bestow this gift may have a lot to do with our atrophied, museum-piece Christianity. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit and His supernatural manifestations are standard equipment for believers in Jesus. And that is where we keep it, pressed between the pages like a long-dead prom corsage. Let us begin to stir up this gift we have been given and resurrect our dead faith!

Inflating the Curve

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:1-11.

I take a keen interest in the life and ministry of Paul because he did more to spread the Gospel around the world than any other person in history. Even if you set aside his writing of a lot of the New Testament, Paul had certain patterns of behavior that we seem to have forgotten, even though it’s written down right under our noses.

What Paul did was simple and replicable. He traveled from city to city and started teaching in a synagogue. He would tell about Jesus, and prove that He was the Messiah until they threw him out. By then, some of the Jews in the synagogue left with him, and he led them in reaching out to the Gentiles, a much larger market. Paul never built a building. He poached on other available facilities and established home fellowships and raised up leaders so he could move on. He raised money for travel expenses and worked when he had to. Although healing and miracles had a large impact on his ability to draw crowds, those would likely have stopped if he quit traveling to build a large Amphitheater and called it the Saint Paul Miracle, Healing, and Deliverance Tabernacle, Inc.

It might be most important to remember that Paul was called to be an Apostle. This is not an honorary title bestowed on early church leaders for getting there first. It is a job description. An apostle is one who establishes new ministry. He’s not a pastor. He’s not an evangelist. He has to raise up other people to do those jobs.

The church in America has too much overhead, too much bureaucratic oversight, and too little ambition to reach the lost. We have effectively flattened the Curve of kingdom advancement with our own version of masks and lockdowns. We are muzzled in public, and we only practice our faith behind closed doors. We have done this to ourselves.