“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD (Isaiah 55:8).
Occasionally, even frequently, God’s way makes no sense to us, on both a personal level and even a national one. This morning I heard a wonderful pastor on the radio preaching an excellent message, and, to sum it up, challenged me to “greater commitment and dedication to making better, more sacrificial choices” in my daily walk.
With this blog posting already in my mind, after hearing this pastor I thought about how typical this thinking is among Christian leaders and in the majority of messages being preached from our pulpits. This seems like a legitimate, godly challenge to us, but in reality it is a demonstration that “our ways are not His ways.” They (and we) have ALL, including the most brilliant among us, have eaten of the forbidden fruit in Adam and are now addicted to “making good choices”— living by the law of good and evil—without even realizing it. These questions; “Is it good or evil;?” “Is it right or wrong;?” “Is it spiritual or sinful?” constantly fill our minds.
God’s supernatural power is not released through our lives when we are living like this, and here’s why: “right and wrong” before God was over for us at the cross and we are now living by faith alone in a Father who loves and forgives us fully. If the sovereign God of the universe wants something done through me, He WILL do it—naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously—and there is nothing I can do to thwart Him!
A beautiful and little-known example of this is the powerful results of the stoning of the deacon Steven in Acts 7. Steven was accosted and seized for preaching Jesus and ultimately brought before the Pharisees, falsely accused of blasphemy. Then he was stoned to death. Saul, later named Paul, encouraged those who threw the stones.
Acts 8:1 tells us what happened next: “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
Fast forward several years, after the conversion of Saul. The church in Jerusalem has been re-established under the leadership of the Apostles, and “Those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:19, 20).
The original members of this relatively new, growing Jerusalem church (about three years old at the time of Stephan’s death) were “scattered” by the post-stoning persecution, going primarily “throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria,” but some even went further afield to Syria.
These churches were not “missionaries” trying to spread the gospel and plant new churches; they were refugees fleeing to save their lives! They were looking for jobs, finding places for themselves and their families to live—all the while meeting together as the church in whatever shelter they could find. In the necessary flow of these life-sustaining measures, they were naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously “preaching the Lord Jesus,” to all they met!
Can you imagine the impact these Spirit-energized, relatively new Christians must have had on all those new friends, the stories they must have told, and the responses to them? Many said “How can I get in on this love, joy and peace that you have?” and the little churches made up of foreign refugees grew and grew wherever they went.
The new church in Antioch in Syria was one of those little groups. Something had happened in this spontaneously-planted refugee church: “And the hand of the Lord was with them (in Antioch), and a great number believed (Jews and non-Jews alike) and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). It was flourishing to such an extent that word got back to the Mother Church in Jerusalem, and they sent one of their leaders, Barnabas, to Antioch to check it out. They received him eagerly, he stayed and ministered with them, and the church’s growth accelerated “for he (Barnabas) was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24).
As soon as Barnabas saw that Antioch was spiritually exploding, he went to Tarsus to recruit a young, new Christian firebrand named Paul to help him, and the rest is history. That originally nameless, faceless church in Antioch became possibly the most important church in history. It was the fountainhead of Paul’s missionary travels, and his home base through which God spread Christianity over the whole world!
And the Antioch church was typical in its history, structure, and function of the other New Testament churches. Listen to Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, beginning with an encouraging report about the impact of their testimonies about coming to Jesus Christ: “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:8, 9).
Sounds like Antioch! These New Testament churches were living in God’s inside-out, upside-down, do-nothing gospel that they had heard from other new believers. Those new Christians found it impossible to “do nothing,” because they could not have stayed silent if they had tried (2 Corinthians 5:14)! As we see that gospel ourselves and believe it, we too, naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously, will join the churches at Antioch and at Thessalonica to become an irresistible force of “unconscious warriors” who will prevail as we attack the gates of Hell (Matthew 16:18)!