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Loving Christ’s Church

For the past several weeks, the Apostle Paul has been in Ephesus on his third missionary journey – preaching the Word of God, doing miracles, and as usual, causing riots and uproars!

As we’ve been following Paul on his journeys through the book of Acts, it seems every city he visits ends up absolutely divided in their opinion of him! Either the people love and accept Him as a brother – or they reject and hate him as public enemy #1.

And the city of Ephesus is no exception to that rule. Last week the entire city was in an uproar against Paul – stirred to action by the silversmith Demetrius (who accused Paul of destroying his lucrative idol-making business and undermining the worship and the credibility of their goddess Artemis.)

Thankfully, the mayor of Ephesus didn’t see things quite the same way. He didn’t see Paul or Christianity as a threat to their city and he was able to disperse the mob before things got out of hand.

But now today, in contrast to that angry mob, we’re going to see the opposite side of that spectrum. Today we’re going to see just how dearly loved Paul was to the many who had been transformed by the power of the Gospel! It seems that Paul never had a neutral effect – you either loved him or you hated him!

Paul actually wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 2:15…

15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16a

I really like Paul’s metaphor here of being a fragrance – and it certainly fits his experience!

Now to be sure, Paul was certainly a strong scent. He was kinda like smell of garlic… You either love it or you hate it! There was no middle ground! But one way or another, Paul’s life made an impact on the people around him.

  • To those who wanted nothing to do with God – Paul’s life was a stench and everything about him was repulsive to them.
  • But for those who were seeking a real, authentic relationship with the God of heaven – Paul’s life was a breath of fresh air – like the smell of freshly-baked bread or the country air after a spring rain! For those who would come to Christ, Paul’s life and his message was absolutely refreshing!

And I think that’s really what we are called to be like as well. Jesus describes us as salt and as light – two things that should made a tremendous impact on the environment in which we find ourselves. As salt, we should be packed with flavour – and as light we should be like a million-candle-power flashlight! What a tragedy it would be if our lives were like a 1 watt bulb – or just a single grain salt in a big batch of french fries! NO! We need to be like Paul – packed with flavour – lighting up the darkness like a floodlight! Or to use Paul’s analogy, people should be able to smell us a mile away!

Perhaps that’s not the most attractive analogy, but do you get my point? God didn’t leave us on this planet to be neutral, to be unnoticed, to be inconsequential to the world around us. Like Paul, God has us on this planet to make an impact – one way or the other – for Him.

And today, as we read through Acts chapter 20, Paul is going to tell us exactly how He did that – and how we can do that as well.

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To Whom Do We Cling?

Last Sunday we were reminded all over again about the incredible power of our God. As we read through the beginning parts of Acts chapter 19, we saw God do some amazing things through Paul and in the city of Ephesus in general!

  • We saw people being healed simply by touching Paul’s handkerchiefs & work aprons.
  • We saw evil spirits being cast out in the same manner.
  • We saw both Jews & Greeks throughout the province of Asia being taught the Word of the Lord through Paul’s teaching.
  • And we saw many people believe in Christ, confess and repent of their sins, and choose to live whole-heartedly for Christ!

As we read in our concluding verse last week:

20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. Acts 19:20

God was clearly at work in Ephesus – just like He is today – even in our town of Penhold! God is always at work, carrying out His good will through His people – people like you, me, and Paul.

And of course, Paul was willing to carry out God’s work where ever God would lead him. And at this particular time, God was preparing to move him on to Macedonia, Achaia, to Jerusalem, and eventually on to Rome.

In verse 21, we see the Holy Spirit beginning to nudge Paul in those directions. It says…

21 Afterward Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” 22 He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.

Acts 19:21-22

In just a short while, Paul would leave Ephesus and as he had hoped, would indeed go on to Rome to preach the Gospel – but it probably wouldn’t be in the manner that he expected. Little did he know, he would be arriving in Rome in chains – preparing to stand trail before Ceasar!

But of course, that’s all quite a bit down the road yet. For now, he stayed a little longer in Asia – long enough to find himself in the centre of a great uproar in Ephesus!

And that’s what we’re going to look at today. So if you have your Bibles, you can turn to Acts chapter 19.

Now just before we read, keep in mind that there has been a great revival in Ephesus during Paul’s time in the city. Last week we read about how people were being dramatically transformed by God. For example: many people who had been practicing sorcery had burned all their incantation books at a public bonfire – burning up millions of dollars worth of books! So the Gospel has clearly been impacting this city in some majors ways! And we’re going to see that even more clearly today: So we pick up the story now in verse 23.

23 About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. 24 It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. 25 He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. 26 But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! 27 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”

28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Acts 19:23-28

And we’ll stop here for now. So here we have this fellow Demetrius – a man who’s business was directly connected with idol worship. And in Ephesus, business was booming – or at least it had been! Demetrius had employed many people and grown quite wealthy by manufacturing silver shines of the Greek goddess Artemis. But as the Gospel spread throughout the whole province of Asia, the business of making idols had taken quite a hit!

And so Demetrius gathers up all the craftsmen and all the folks in similar trades, and gives a rousing speech designed to stir up the people against Paul. And he makes two main arguments against Paul – points that he knows will certainly stir up people’s emotions.

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Power in Ephesus

If you are just joining us today for the first time, we have been working our way through the book of Acts for the last several months. We are now in Acts chapter 19 and the start of Paul’s third missionary journey. 

Paul had been commissioned by God to bring the message of the Gospel to Kings, gentiles, and his fellow Jews throughout the Roman empire. And this is the third major excursion that Paul has undertaken to accomplish this task. However, this third journey is little bit different from his first two journeys.

In his first two journeys, Paul was really a pioneer of the Gospel! He brought the Good News to places far from Jerusalem – places that had never heard the message of Jesus. But now in his third missionary journey, he actually spends most of his time strengthening the church – working in places where he had already planted churches earlier.

If you look at the maps of Paul’s journeys, you can see that journey number three includes many of the same places that he had already visited during journey number two. But this fits well with Paul’s desire not only to preach the Gospel – but to help people grow and mature in the Lord. As we’ve mentioned before, Paul didn’t want to merely make believers – but he wanted to make disciples – followers of Jesus Christ would who grow, mature, and make more disciples of Jesus. This is part of the reason why Paul wrote all those letters that make up a good portion of our New Testament today – these were written to give instruction and encouragement for those new believers in the churches that he had planted.

And this is really the expectation that Jesus has for all of us! Not to write letters that will one day become part of the Bible, but to help each other grow and mature in the Lord. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 28:19…

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. Matthew 28:19-20a

The second part of this command – to teach these new disciples to obey all of the commands of Christ – is just as important as the initial step of making disciples and baptizing them! And so as Paul traveled the world preaching the Gospel, he was very intentional about helping these new disciples grow in their faith and understand of Jesus. And we’re going to see that very clearly in our passage today.

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Gallio, Sosthenes, and Apollos

In our passage today, Paul is about to conclude his second missionary journey. This journey has taken him roughly 3 years to complete and during this time, he has traveled about 2,500 miles – which by comparison, is roughly the distance between here and Florida! So this has been quite a journey for Paul and his companions.

But their journey is not yet complete. As of verse 11 in Acts chapter 18 where we left off last week, Paul still has about 1/3 of the journey to complete. And so today, Luke is going to zip us through that final leg of the journey – using only five verses to summarize it all! (I guess not much interesting happened on the way home.)

But as I said, we’re not there yet. At the moment, Paul is still in Corinth – having been assured by God in a vision that no one was going to attack & harm him here as they had in other cities. And so Paul stayed in Corinth for about a year and a half – preaching the Word of God and building up the church.

However, even though God has promised Paul that he would be safe, that didn’t guarantee that he would be free from opposition. And as we begin our passage today – opposition is exactly what we see. Starting at verse 12.

12 But when Gallio became governor of Achaia, some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment. 13 They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.” Acts 18:12-13

As we’ve seen many times before (in fact, in most of the cities where Paul has visited) it’s not long before the Jews are plotting together to either kill or silence Paul. These Jews had refused to believe Paul’s message – and they were not happy that other Jews had believed. And so as these verses tell us, they rose up together against Paul; and brought him before the new governor of Achaia. 

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For the last month we’ve been taking a look at the book of Acts. The full title of the book, as listed in your Bibles, is likely “The Acts of the Apostles” – but as we’ve noted previously, it might be more accurate to call it “The Continued Acts of Jesus” or even “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”. While the different Apostles certainly play a key role in the various parts of this book, it’s clear right from chapter 1 that this book is all about the incredible activity of God in people’s lives.

And that’s exactly what we saw last week. Last week, we saw how the Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit – and he was enabled, not only to speak in languages that he had never learned, but perhaps even more miraculous, the Holy Spirit enabled Peter to boldly share the Gospel with a huge crowd of people and 3,000 of them accepted Christ as their Saviour and were baptized that day!

Now remember, this was the same Peter who had denied even knowing Jesus when a little girl asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples! In fact, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times that night – but now here he is, an absolutely changed man, boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ to the very crowds who had put Jesus to death 7 weeks earlier!

What a change! Now that the Holy Spirit was living within Peter, Peter was being absolutely transformed from the inside out.

And not only Peter, but all of the Apostles too, as well as the other 120 disciples, as well as the other 3,000 people who had just accepted Christ as their Saviour after hearing Peter’s message!

And of course, that made for a really interesting scenario! Here we have the very first church – and it’s a big one – over 3,000 people. But every one of them were brand new Christians! Even the Apostles had only just recently come to understand who Jesus really was, what He had done for them, and what the Kingdom of God was really all about!

This was all brand new for everyone! There wasn’t even any other other churches in history that they could look at and learn from! They just had to make it up as they went along – trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide and direct them as they learned what it meant to be followers of Christ.

And so today, we’re going to look at the final six verses of Acts chapter 2 that describe what that very first church did as they attempted to figure out what it looked like to be a church. 

Now many people would point to this passage in Acts 2 as the description of the ideal church – in fact, I think I’ve probably preached on this passage before with similar intent. But as I’ve grown in my understanding of the Bible over the years, I’m not so sure that we should read this as God’s blueprints for the perfect church.

These people that we’re going to read about were still imperfect people who made mistakes and still struggled with sin (just like you and I). In fact, as we read on through the book of Acts, we see that made quite clear to us with stories like Ananias and Sapphira lying about their donations to church or the racial discrimination that happened at the church food bank, or even (as Paul later mentions in Galatians) how Peter refused to eat with Gentile Christians.

This was not a perfect church, nor did they have perfect leaders – and so what we read here is not necessarily the prescription for what God intended church to look like. However, it is a description of what these first believers did to carry out their mandate to make disciples, to learn to love each other and to love God, and to grow in the knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is. And that’s what makes this passage so helpful for us.

While not everything they did was perfect, there was a lot of good stuff happening in that church, so I think there is a lot that we can learn from them.

So as I said, we’re looking at the last verses of Acts chapter 2 this morning, so let’s begin at verse 41, and then read through until the end. It reads like this:

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