Tuesday, March 22, 2016

5 essentials for sustaining Ministry

Read Acts 14.

Jesus said, in Acts 1:8 "...and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  This verse provides a broad outline of the book of Acts.  In chapters 1-7, the ministry took place in the city of Jerusalem.  In chapters 8-12, largely due to persecution, the ministry expanded to the provinces of Judea and Samaria.  From chapter 13 on, the primary geographical focus is on spreading the Gospel to new territories.  The account in chapters 13-14 is commonly referred to as the first missionary journey.

In verse 4, they are referred to as "apostles."  This is in the dictionary sense of the word: "a delegate" or one who is sent.  They had been sent by the church at Antioch.  In verses 26-28, they reported back to that congregation.  Paul and Barnabas taught Jews in the synagogues and sought opportunities to preach to Gentiles.  But when "a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed" (v.1), Satan intensified the spiritual war.  The opposition was so great they were forced to move on.

At Lystra, Paul healed a lame man.  The response from those who believed in the fantasy of celestial gods, wrongly interpreted the true power of God.  Seizing the opportunity, Paul urged them to "turn from these vain things to a living God."  In verses 15-17, he presented God as the Creator of all things, the One who blessed them with common grace, who had been trying to get their attention ("witness" see Romans 1), who is the source of their food, and provides the ability to enjoy this life with fulfillment and joy.  With that they stoned Paul and left him for dead.  Miraculously, Paul revived and continued the ministry.  He even went right back to the city that stoned him (v.21).

This flies right into the face of those who propagate the health and wealth gospel.  "Receive Jesus, think good thoughts, and everything will go well."  The Scriptures will dispel that false teaching quickly.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."  It is not something we go looking for and certainly is not to be the result of any offensive behavior on our part.  A commitment to Jesus first causes one to live differently than others.  This difference is not always welcomed by unbelievers.  Second, the message of Jesus presents an either or decision.  Unbelievers may condemn such a message as narrow-minded and an affront to their made-up beliefs.

How could Paul and Barnabas leave new followers of Christ in this territory?  What would they say and do?  In verses 22-23, they did five things that would sustain the ministry.
1. They strengthened their souls.  Surely, these events shook the faith of these new believers.  Nothing will reestablish, confirm and strengthen our faith like the Scriptures.  Our confidence is not in our circumstances but the unchanging Word of God.  It is our only offensive weapon in this spiritual war (Ephesians 6:17).
2. They encouraged their faith.  Speaking words of comfort, they urged them to be faithful no matter what happens.
3. They reminded them of persecution.  Trouble, anguish, and opposition because of our faith is to be expected.  It comes with being a part of a different kingdom than the one of this world.  We live in enemy territory.
4. They appointed leaders.  This was an official recognition of some spiritual men who could continue reaching the lost and ministering to these new followers of Christ.
5. They prayed and fasted.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus is the key to endurance (Hebrews 11:2)

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