Learning from Acts 15-23
15:1-35 - The Gospel is for all nations. In the Old Testament, we catch a glimpse of this (Genesis 12:1-3; Psalms 96:1-3;100:1; Isaiah 45:22). Here, we have the Gospel made clear. Peter says, ‘We shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus’ (11). Paul says, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (16:31). This is the Gospel: ‘By grace you have been saved through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8). Together with the Good News concerning salvation, there is also an ‘exhortation’ to go on with the Saviour (31). In this call to submit to the Lord, we hear the word, ‘abstain’ (20,29). Does this sound negative? It is a positive call to be set apart for God – ‘saved… for good works…’ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Christ is our Saviour. He is also our Lord. In salvation and surrender, we find our true joy (31).
15:36-16:40 - Notice the importance of prayer in the advance of the Gospel. They were looking for a prayer meeting when Lydia was saved (13-14). They were going to a prayer meeting when the girl was saved (16-18). They were having a prayer meeting when the jailer was saved (25-34). They had gone to Philippi ‘to preach the Gospel to them’ (10). Even when they were ‘in chains’, the Gospel proved itself to be ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’ (Ephesians 6:20; Romans 1:16). ‘The Word of God is not bound’. It is ‘living and active’. ‘Sharper than any two-edged sword’, it is ‘the sword of the Spirit’ (2 Timothy 2:9; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17). Do you want people to ask the Salvation question and heed the Gospel answer (30-31)? ‘Pray at all times in the Spirit… with all perseverance’ (Ephesians 6:18).
17:1-34 - Notice the importance of the Scriptures for both public ministry – ‘reasoning with them from the Scriptures’ and private devotion – ‘examining the Scriptures every day’ (2,11). We need the Word of the Lord on the Lord’s Day. We need the Word of the Lord every day. God is not the ‘unknown God’. He has made himself known to us. For many, He seems to be the ‘unknown God’. We must seek to lead them beyond a vague awareness of ‘the God who made the world’ to a real knowledge of Jesus Christ who died and rose again for our salvation (24,3). When our faith is grounded in the Scriptures, we will not think of God as the ‘unknown God’ about whom we can know very little. We will make it our ambition ‘to know Christ and the power of His resurrection’ (Philippians 3:10). ‘Let us press on to know the Lord’ (Hosea 6:3).
18:1-21 - It was not an easy situation at Corinth. There were some who ‘opposed Paul and became abusive’ (6). There was great pressure on Paul. He could have given up very easily. It was God’s Word which kept Paul going (10). Paul did not collapse under thee pressure – ‘he stayed a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them’ (11). At Ephesus, there were people who asked Paul ‘to stay for a longer period’. He ‘declined’. Paul was moving on. He refused to be shackled by the expectations of other people. The important thing was ‘God’s will’. For us, there can be no standing still. We must move on with God. We must not get ‘stuck in a rut’. Some say, ‘Everything must remain the same. Nothing must change’. Paul had to ‘set sail from Ephesus’. We must ‘launch out into the deep’ – at Jesus’ Word (20-21; Luke 5:4-5).
18:22-19:22 - Apollos ‘taught accurately the things concerning Jesus’. He needed to have ‘the way of God expounded to him more accurately’ (24-26). There is always more to learn. We should never adopt a ‘know-it-all’ attitude. In ‘two years’ of ministry, ‘God did’ great things through Paul (10-11). Paul was moving on. His road led to ‘Rome’. It was a road, full of blessing – ‘The Word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily’ (20-21). Paul was on the move. God was on the move. Wherever Paul went, there were opportunities to make Christ known. Wherever he went, people were trusting Christ. Paul was moving from place to place, bringing Christ to so many different people. People were moving ‘from death to life’ (John 5:24). This is what drove Paul on – Bringing more and more sinners to his Saviour!
19:23-20:16 - Read verse 28: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’. Remember Exodus 20:3 – ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’. Remove all pretenders from God’s throne. Rededicate yourself to the Lord – ‘King of my life, I crown Thee now, Thine shall the glory be’ (Redemption Hymnal, 165). People could not get enough of God’s Word. Be hungry and thirsty for God, for His righteousness, for His Word, for His blessing (7; Matthew 5:6). Paul wanted to be ‘at Jerusalem… on the day of Pentecost’ (16). This had been a place and time of blessing (2:1-4,41). Paul was eager for the blessing of God in his own life. He was eager to bring God’s blessing to others. How much does the blessing of God mean to you? Do you want His blessing? Do you want to be a blessing? ‘Lord bless me and make me a blessing’.
20:17-21:14 - From Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders, there are some lessons for all of us. (a) ‘Repentance to God’ and ‘faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (21) – This is not only a call for conversion. It is for every believer – all the time. (b) ‘Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock of God… Care for the Church of God’ (28). Taking our own spiritual growth seriously will always involve caring for others. (c) ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (35). Jesus Others Yourself – This is JOY. Let it be Thanksgiving (‘I want to’) rather than Duty Giving (‘I ought to’) or Grudge Giving (‘I have to’). For Jesus and Paul, Jerusalem meant suffering. For both, the important thing was doing ‘the Lord’s will’ (10-14; Matthew 16:21-23). ‘Let us go forth to Him… and bear the abuse He endured’ (Hebrews 13:13).
21:15-22:16 - Here, we focus on two brief phrases – ‘the things that God had done’ (19) and you will be a witness for Him’ (22:15). In the work of God we must learn to hold these two things together – divine power and human witness. Without the power of God, no one will come to faith in Christ: ‘It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’. How does God work? – He works through human witnesses: ‘we preach… Jesus Christ as Lord’. How are divine power and human witness related to each other? – ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent, superior, all-surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (Corinthians 4:5-7). Let God speak – through you!
22:17-23:35 - A Jew, ‘praying in the temple’ at ‘Jerusalem’, Paul was obedient to God’s call – ‘I will send you far away to the Gentiles’ (22:17,21).The racists would not hear of this – ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he ought not to live’ (22:22). This was not simply dislike for Paul. This was hatred directed against the God who, in Jesus Christ, offers salvation to all nations. Paul was a ‘Roman citizen’ (22:25-29). God was protecting Paul for his future ministry – ‘you must bear witness also at Rome’ (23:11). Paul was giving his own testimony when he wrote the words, ‘All things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8:28). Serving the Lord is never easy. Sometimes, it can be very difficult. When we face violent opposition, we draw our strength from God’s Word – ‘Take courage’ (23:10-11).