Week of October 24

The Power Behind Our Witness

Read: Job 15; Acts 19-20
“About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.”
Acts 19:23, ESV


“The Way” creates disruption because it causes a radical transformation of life, not simply because of its doctrinal truths (19:23, 35-37; see also 18:15). The form that Gospel resistance takes often changes shape, but the underlying reality is still the same. People resist God’s moral challenge to their lives. So, we need to be aware of the nature of the Good News and the responsibility that it places upon us as messengers. Let’s consider today the importance of Gospel force in our daily lives.

Let's See What the Bible Says

Paul arrives in Ephesus on his 3rd missionary journey. The city was situated on the western coast of Asia Minor at the mouth of the Cayster River (modern day Turkey). It was located between the Koressos mountain range and the Aegean Sea. The city was also known for its worship of the goddess Artemis (the Lat. Diana). The temple built in her honor was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world (EBC). The area was a ripe mission field for the Gospel, even though the commercial and political glory days of that city were long past by the time Paul arrived. He established an extended ministry in that place. There was abundant spiritual activity in the city, but not all of it was beneficial.
Close, but So Far Away!
Paul encounters some disciples of a most unusual kind when he arrived in Ephesus (19:1-7). There were “about twelve” of them and they were at this point not “strictly Christian” (19:7; NAC; HNTC). I suppose that we may say that they had completed part of the spiritual journey to new life, but had yet to arrive. They knew only of John’s baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of Messiah and nothing of Jesus’ baptism (cf. Luke 24:18, “Are you the only one . . .”).

These disciples of John simply were not aware of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (19:2-3). I hasten to add that the lack of Christian baptism was not the real deficiency for these sincere disciples. Baptism would follow, but the real need was more serious, since they had failed to recognize Jesus as the one to whom John had pointed—the promised Messiah (NAC). Paul remedies the situation by preaching Jesus to them, then performing baptism in the name of the “Lord Jesus” (19:4-5). The key for their “new life” is the Holy Spirit (19:6). They gave evidence of the Spirit’s activity in their lives in the same way that the Jews did at Pentecost. Here is the point then and now: There could be no rival commitment to the Lordship of Christ.
Inner Change Leads to Outer Evidence
When Christ changed the lives of the Ephesians, it changed the way they lived their lives in culture. Christian converts in that city made monetary sacrifices for their faith (19:19-20), but there were others whose real god was their money (cf. 19:25 with 19:35-36; see also Matthew 6:24). The pure Gospel will always permeate the lives of people, homes, communities and entire regions. That is its nature. It creates positive moral disruption. That is its life-changing nature (19:26; cf. Matthew 13:31-33). Gospel growth impacted corrupt business, and this caused a stir (19:27).

Ultimately, the heart of the matter boils down to Christ’s moral authority (Matthew 7:28-29). We see that the Gospel: challenges the minds of people (19:8-9), transforms physical life (19:11-12), overpowers crippling evil (19:12b), and, gloriously, creates great reverence for God (19:17). If none of these things are happening in the life of our churches, it is not because the Gospel has lost its impact. We, quite likely, have lost our Way (cf. Revelation 3:15-18).

Let's Deepen Our Walk

Every year, or so it seems, I watch a heart-tugging video of a marathon where the leader collapses just before crossing the finish line. The second-place runner stops to give the fallen leader assistance in crossing the finish line. That scene reminds me that I may know all there is to know about the Christian life from my point of view, but it counts for nothing unless the Spirit of Christ knows me, changes my life, and carries me. My “victory” is always in Christ and this witness must be forefront in our culture.

Here are some thoughts for our spiritual growth. First, Paul’s encounter with the former twelve “disciples” of John holds important application for our lives today. Surveys indicate that many contemporary Christians do not believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life (cf. Barna). The transformational power of the Spirit is absent from the lives of many people who believe that they are Christians.

Secondly, the Way of Christ indicates that His followers embody His teachings. We see the moral embodiment of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Ephesus. The believers there were sold out to the Way of Christ, so much so that it literally affected the entire culture. The resistance took on different faces—spiritual, economic, and political—but the reality was that the church was being used by God to advance His kingdom and the engine was the Spirit at work through the Gospel (cf. 19:1-6). We think wrongly when we believe that our “branding” is what impacts the world. It is the mark of Christ on our entire lives that catches the world’s attention and brings its opposition.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Paul and his associates were accused of embodying a life-disrupting message. This passage calls us to reflect upon the pungency of our witness (Matthew 5:13-16). Carefully answer the following question: In what way does your Christian lifestyle lack moral influence? What changes will you make?

2. For Families: Our children can learn this important truth early—their lives can be a powerful reflection of Jesus to those around them. As our children mature, they can become developmentally aware of their influence for good or for evil. If they love Jesus, they will want to act in ways that help and not harm others. Encourage them weekly with notes in lunchboxes, a pat on the back after sports practice, or a hug before bed that says you noticed their upright and selfless behavior. Let’s pray consistently that God will form His character in the lives of our children. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6; The Message).

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock