Realities Of Ministry
REALITIES OF THE MINISTRY ACTS 13:4-12
One of the things that I love about the Bible is its brute honesty. The Bible is completely truthful about the nature of God, the nature of Satan, the nature of men, and the nature of the world. God paints a realistic picture about life. God never glosses over the sins of men or the struggles of life. In other words, God is completely honest about the fallen world that we live in and the fallen nature of men.
I believe that Christians who can handle life best are those who see the reality of life. They realize that man has fallen and the world that they live in is not perfect. But there is a trend today among many evangelicals that want to paint a fantasy world in which we escape the trials and tribulations of life. They teach that becoming a Christian takes away all our problems and if those problems have not diminished or vanished completely, then it is because of the lack of faith on our part.
But I warn you from my own experience and even more importantly from the Word of God that serving Christ is not easy. If you are going to perform ministry for the Lord then expect difficulty. You should expect to be opposed. The enemy is not going to lie down and give up. His objective is to fight against the things of God. This is why Paul reminds us that the spiritual life is warfare.
Many of us are familiar with Murphy’s Law. Law #1: Nothing is as easy as it looks. Law #2: Everything takes longer than you think. Law #3: If anything can go wrong, it will! You see it does not matter who you are (rich or poor, male or female, black or white, Christian or not) you will encounter hardship. The only time that troubles will cease is when you are in the grave, but if you are unbeliever the Bible says that your troubles are only beginning.
I say all this because the church today is being sold a bad bill of goods which simply put “Accept Christ and everything will be fine!” It sounds good but is not true. Let me ask you a question, “Have you ever had trouble as a Christian.” There are many Christians who are fighting diseases, battling family problems, and in the economy that we are in are financially strapped with very tight budgets because of unemployment.
No matter who you are as a Christian and what level of ministry you are involved in accepting Christ is no guarantee against calamity. Friends will forsake us, families will fail us, and heartaches are a regular part of life. There have been great men and women of God who had experienced all kinds of sorrows for serving the Lord. Imagine if they aimed lower rather than higher, then they would have not been used as mightily as they were for the Kingdom of God.
You see what makes the greatest difference in this war is our conduct and attitude. It is how we perceive things which will either help us to attempt great things for God or not. I believe it was William Carey who said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” He said this in a sermon at the Baptist Association meeting in Northampton, England on May 30, 1792. In this sermon he was urging his Baptist colleagues to enter the missionary enterprise.
I believe that this was the heart of the church at Antioch when they embarked on reaching the world for Christ. They saw themselves as fountains from which God’s grace flowed rather than reservoirs from which God’s grace was held. Folks, how do we see our church and the ministry that God has called us? Are we willing to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God? Are we fountains or reservoirs? It is my prayer that this sermon will stir us to be fountains from which God’s grace flows rather than reservoirs from which God’s grace is held.
Luke, in chapters 13 and 14, provides us with great information about the realities of ministry and the struggles that the early church had in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In our passage this morning, I want to give you three realities that you will encounter when doing ministry for the Lord. There will be openness to the gospel, there will be an opposition to the gospel, and there will be obedience to the gospel. First,
THE OPENNESS TO THE GOSPEL – 4-7
Let me review with you a minute about what is going on in this chapter. This book takes a drastic turn at this point. Acts is no longer focused on Peter and the church at Jerusalem. The shift has been made to Paul and the church at Antioch. So this church is on mission of reaching the world for Christ. God is fulfilling the commission that he issued to the apostles in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So the church is on mission of reaching the world for Christ. Imagine if this church did not expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. Imagine for a moment what the church would look like. But thank God they expected great things from God and attempted great things for God. So the church was Spirit-filled because the Spirit directed them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for reaching the Gentiles with the gospel. The church fasts and prays for them and lays their hands on them before sending them off.
Now notice what Luke wrote at the beginning of verse 4, they were “sent out by the Holy Spirit.” I want to make a very important observation here. It is the Spirit that does the sending of individuals for the work of ministry. In other words, God takes the initiative of choosing people for the work of the ministry. The church had nothing to do with it. Yet, the church plays a part in the sending. Well, what is that?
It is to let them go. Here is the idea being presented here: the Spirit is doing the sending, but the church is to cut the cord and let them go. In other words, we are to let them go with our love and support for the work of the ministry. Let me illustrate this with the life of Lazarus. Remember he was in the grave for four days. Jesus calls him forth and he is raised from the dead. What did the people do that were there that day. Nothing, except to unwrap him and let him go. This is what is happening in the church as the Spirit is sending Barnabas and Saul to reach the Gentiles with the gospel.
So Barnabas and Saul leave the church at Antioch and make the fifteen mile trek down to the port of Seleucia. There they board a ship and head for the island of Cyprus, which is about a 130 mile voyage. This island was regarded by the ancient world like we regard Hawaii. William Barclay calls it the “Happy Isle” because its climate is perfect and its resources are abundant. For many people it was a place in the sun or a “Fantasy Island.”
So they pull into the seaport of Salamis. It had a large Jewish population there. So Barnabas and Saul began their ministry in the synagogue preaching to the Jews and witnessing to the God-fearing Gentiles that had gathered there. Luke puts a little side note that John Mark was assisting them. The word here for assist literally means an “underrower.” In other words, he was doing whatever these two men directed him to do.
They travel through the whole island and make the 100 mile journey to the other side and arrive at the city of Paphos. This is where there spiritual warfare kicks in. This is where they encounter some trouble for preaching the gospel. The city was known for its temple and worship of Venus, the goddess of love. The Greeks identified her with Aphrodite, who according to legend had been born of the sea foam along the nearby coast. So you can see that they encountered a false religion that captivated the hearts of many of its citizens.
Except there was one, Sergius Paulus, who was discontent with the religion of the Romans and desired something different. Paulus was a Roman proconsul (governor) and a very intelligent man. Like most people of that time who were superstitious, he had a part of his entourage a magician named Bar-Jesus in verse 6 and Elymas in verse 8.
In other words, he was somewhat like Cornelius in that he was seeking the truth. He wanted to know more about the gospel that Barnabas and Saul were preaching. Folks, one of the things that you can expect in doing ministry is that not all people are closed to the gospel. In fact, in my personal experience most people are open to hear what you say even if they do not respond with faith. So let me encourage you to be willing to share with those who will listen and never jump to the conclusion that they will never hear what I have got to say. There is an openness to the gospel, next there will be
THE OPPOSITION TO THE GOSPEL – 8-11
Notice that in these verses, there was a major battle that ensues. Folks doing ministry for the Lord will bring us in conflict with the enemy. There is no way around it. Spiritual warfare is not a fantasy of over imaginative theologians. It is reality.
There is a cost for sincere service for Christ. Never share your faith and you will never look like a fool. Never stand for righteousness on a social issue and you will never be rejected. Never walk out of a theater because a movie or play is offensive and you will never be called a prig. Never practice consistent honesty in business and you will not lose the trade of a not-so-honest associate. Never reach out to the needy and you will never be taken advantage of. Never give your heart and it will never be broken. Never go to Cyprus and you will never be subjected to a dizzy, heart-convulsing confrontation with Satan. Seriously follow Christ and you will experience a gamut of sorrows almost completely unknown to the unbeliever. But of course you will also know the joy of adventure with the Lord of the universe and of spiritual victory as you live a life of allegiance to him. (R. Kent Hughes)
One thing we can say about Paul was there was never a dull moment for him in the ministry. In verse 8, Elymas opposed (resisted in word and deed) them. He knew what he had in this governor and he was not willing to relinquish his persuasion over this man. So he does everything within his power to turn (twist, dislocate, confuse) him from the faith.
Most people who oppose the gospel do so out of selfish reasons. Often the person realizes that if the gospel is true, then he must repent of his sin, and he doesn’t want to repent because he enjoys his sin. He knows that if he becomes a Christian, he will have to give up his shady business practices, and it will cost him a bundle. Since he likes the things he can do and buy with his money, he rejects the gospel. Often those who argue militantly for evolution are not doing so out of purely intellectual reasons. If God is the creator, they know that they’re in big trouble because of their sins; so they use whatever arguments they can, however ridiculous (and some of them are simply ludicrous!), to defend evolution. Whatever the surface objections to the gospel, the root reason is always that the person wants to be his own god.
I want you to notice what happens next in verse 9. Paul was filled with the Spirit. The Spirit led him to say what he said to this man. In other words, Paul goes about exposing the heart of this man.
Can I remind you that there are only two kinds of people in the world: the children of God and the children of the devil? If you belong to God then you are considered his son and daughter, but if you are here and do not belong to God then the Bible calls you “sons of disobedience” which makes you a child of the devil.
Satan is a very formidable foe and opposes God because he desires that honor given to God. The Bible calls him the prince of the power of the air and those who are unbelievers are under his lordship. He is a murderer and a liar and has various weapons in his arsenal to persuade those who are lost to remain lost and accuses the believers. He is adamantly opposed to God. So Paul says that this false prophet is opposing God because that is what his father does.
This guy is pulling out all the stops to oppose Paul and the gospel. Paul said he was full of deceit (trickery, falsehood, bait to trick a fish) to keep Paulus from coming to Christ. He was unscrupulous in his action by loosening all moral restraints because of his association with the devil. And he was trying to get Paulus from following the straight path by leading him astray and pervert his way from the kingdom.
The apostle Paul warned that many will follow the false teachers, not knowing that in feeding upon what these people say they are taking the devil’s poison into their own lives. Thousands of people in every walk of life are being deceived today. False teachers use high-sounding words that seem like the height of logic, scholarship, and sophistication. They are intellectually clever and crafty in their sophistry. They are adept at beguiling men and women whose spiritual foundations are weak.
These false teachers have departed from the faith of God revealed in the Scripture.…
Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul warned, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”
Paul later wrote to Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Doesn’t this sound familiar today?…
God’s plan is not abstract or unclear. It is not a secret. He says very clearly, “I love you!” He has called tens of thousands all over the world to proclaim His love to the world and to call every man, woman, and child to His loving arms. To exemplify the army of God that is going forth at this moment into the world I can think of no better example than the thousands of “barefoot preachers” and other itinerant evangelists we helped train in Amsterdam during the past decade.…
Preachers, teachers, students, and mission helpers came from all over the world. Thousands came from Africa.… They came from all over Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, and they went out into the streets of Amsterdam to see and learn and share the love of Jesus Christ with others.
Today that mighty army of traveling preachers from every corner of the world is traveling from village to village and house to house preaching the Good News of God’s love. Why do they do it? For the money? No, they receive almost no support for what they do. Many are lucky if they have a bicycle, a Bible, and a change of clothes. Do they do it for fame and fortune? There is none. In most cases only God knows what good works these humble, sincere pastors have done.
They do it because Jesus Christ is alive! He is living in their hearts, and that Good News is something worthy to share with the world. They are compelled by the life that is in them to tell everyone that Jesus is Lord. If Jesus Christ is not the son of God, nothing matters. But if He is, nothing else matters!
Paul was well aware of the spiritual warfare that was going on, so he fought this opponent with God’s power in order to win Paulus to the Lord. Notice quickly the results of Paul’s conflicts with this false prophet. God sends judgment upon this man which causes blindness temporarily. So you can see when you do ministry for the Lord, you can expect openness to the gospel, opposition to the gospel, and finally,
THE OBEDIENCE TO THE GOSPEL – 12
In verse 12, we read about the obedience of Sergius Paulus in believing the gospel. Obviously God was working on the heart of this proconsul because he was interested in hearing the good news. When you do ministry for the Lord, there will be some who will become obedient to the gospel.
Now I want you to notice that Paul gave this man the teaching of the Lord which is a synonym for the gospel. He presented to him the truth of God’s word in order for this man to respond in faith. Luke said he was amazed (astonished, marveled) at the teaching of the Lord. I am sure that the miracle of striking this false prophet had something to do with his conversion, but I think God wants us to understand that it was the preaching of God’s word that ultimately made the difference.
There are those who can witness a miracle and hear the gospel and still be blind to the truth. But here it might have played a small part in this man’s salvation. As Paul was preaching the straight way of the Lord, which Elymas, was trying to make crooked. Sergius eyes were open to the truth of God’s grace and love for sinners by the clear and accurate presentation of the gospel.
There is the name Sergia Paullina in a Christian cemetery in Rome which shows that one of his family was a Christian later. One will believe what he wills about Sergius Paulus, but I do not see that Luke leaves him in the category of Simon Magus who “believed” (8:13) for revenue only.
Now let me give you a little side note here. Our job is to present the message of the gospel clearly and convincingly as we can and leave the results up to the Holy Spirit. We know that some will oppose the gospel, many were probably apathetic to the gospel, but some will be obedient to the gospel.
Let’s face it –Murphy’s Law is alive and well in the church. Life is difficult for Christians. Any teaching otherwise is at best misinformed and at worse an outright lie. Life is quite often difficult for the on mission Christian. If you truly and fully follow Christ, you will open yourself to diversity of troubles scarcely known by the self-serving non-believer.
The sad reality is many of us are too soft! We think, “This cannot be God’s will – it is too hard! I know it is not God’s will – it hurts!”
The bright reality is that there is no trial or difficulty that God cannot see us through. Paul who experienced many sufferings for the cause of Christ also wrote, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” With Christ there is room for vast optimism.
Some years ago there was great missionary rally in the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, and a clergyman turned to the Duke of Wellington (the “Iron Duke” whose army defeated Napoleon) and asked, My lord Duke, do you believe in missions?” “What are your marching orders?” asked the Duke. “Of course, the Bible says to ‘go into all the world,’” answered the clergyman. “Then you have nothing to say about it. As a soldier you are to obey orders.”
Let us not go to war with glorified expectations. War is difficult, but through Christ we are more than conquerors!