Last week we continued to follow the apostle Paul as he left Athens and went alone on to Corinth. It seemed an impossible task, one man against a city of very devoted sinners. Of course, it wasn’t the first time God sent a man alone against unbelief like that, but it was an intimidating prospect, nonetheless.
But Paul did not stay alone for long. He reached out on common ground, met like-minded people, and before long a small congregation was blossoming. In fact, this pattern repeated most places he went. Even where he was forcibly driven out, he left behind a contingent of the faithful who continued the work after he departed. Though he made his rounds, sharing Jesus, strengthening churches, and moving on, each place he worked carried on the work without him.
Today, it is that effect in particular that we want to look at. That from the efforts of one, many can come to faith by God’s power. And each one of those many can reach out to just as many more. Let’s begin by taking a look at our reading for today, from Acts 18:
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.
After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
One hates to talk numbers when discussing the church. God wants all people to be saved. He does not measure success in numerical terms. The effectiveness of the Gospel or a congregation should not be measured in numerical growth. It’s a slippery slope to talk numbers.
That being said.
Foregoing issues of doctrinal divide and incorrect teachings, the number of people in the world with saving faith in Jesus could probably be estimated in the hundreds of millions. The number of people who have passed to heaven in the faith in the last 2000 years makes that number significantly higher. Imagine what that number would look like though, if Paul had been the only one teaching people about Jesus. If everyone who had come to faith by his efforts simply took that faith home and enjoyed it for themselves and that was that? God is all-powerful, but humanly speaking – how fast can one person share the faith with the world?
In fact, even Jesus himself said the task was too great. He said the workers were too few and to ask for more workers. He turned to his disciples, told them to pray for more workers that the lost and helpless sheep might get what they so desperately need.
And we’ve seen through the book of Acts how desperately people need Jesus. And people haven’t changed much since our time. As we look at the people in Acts who need Jesus, we don’t just see the same people in our world, we even see ourselves. We see either what we once were or struggle every day not to turn into.
We saw the group that loved just indulging in everything life had to offer in order to try to find happiness on any given day. Do you know that person? Have you tried it yourself? Or even given into it a little bit? The rush of whatever is great… but at the end you have to face reality. And it’s never the same the second time. You have to go bigger and better. And you get caught in an endless loop of one-upping everything that went before. Doesn’t even have to be a sinful vice. Could just be a hobby or vacation or something. You’re working towards that one thing that you say, “when I get here, I’ll be happy and content and everything will be good.” But it’s a hamster wheel. It doesn’t work. And you just have to do it all over again. It’s a hollow chasing of the wind.
We saw the group that preferred to work for satisfaction. That’s just as deceptive a trap. Either you work really hard and end up with a false sense of security from how great you are… or you more likely stumble and make mistakes and end up utterly discouraged that you just can’t seem to get it right. It’s just as bad as chasing those hollow pleasures to think that somehow my life, my worth, my joy has to come from how good I am at something. I can’t stop moving and working because if I do, I’ll realize how empty it really is and it’ll all come crashing down.
And the less said about the town of Corinth and their worship of Aphrodite, the better. Sexual sin is some of the most prevalent in our world. We all know someone caught up in it and we’d be utterly foolish to think that as Christian believers we are above it or immune to it.
All of these people in our world are people chasing empty lives, knowing on some level that something is missing but unable to fill it. And before we look down our nose, they are exactly what you and I would be except for God’s grace in saving us. They need someone to save them. They need a God who died to make these things right. To give them joy and comfort that lasts, water they can drink and never be thirsty again. They need Jesus to fill that void and calm their desperate pursuits.
Just like we needed Jesus to do the same for us. And to help us daily that we don’t go back to those ways. We’re here to plant Jesus in the heart of North Raleigh and beyond…because North Raleigh is full of hurting people who desperately need it.
But this is not a job that one man can do. It’s not even a job that a small team of called workers can do. It is the calling of every Christian to multiply the faith wherever you go.
Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers and then what happened next? He made his disciples workers and sent them out to work. Paul made friends of Priscilla and Aquilla and before long they were travelling with Paul and teaching other believers
And what about that list of people Paul sent greetings to in Rome? You know, at the point Paul wrote that letter, Paul himself had never even been to Rome? And yet he had a laundry list of people he personally knew who had gone there to carry out ministry for Jesus.
The mission of the church can be summed up simply in two words: Grow and Go. We are to grow the faith of existing believers and we are to go with that faith to share it with others. If you look at Jesus’ great commission that is exactly the directive you’ll find him giving. But the great way about how God works is that each person the Holy Spirit works on and brings to faith is another person to carry out that same mission. One reaches many, the many reach many more, and on and on it goes.
We are a congregation. A gathering. We are very different, with different backgrounds, different attitudes and quirks and foibles. But we are united as a gathering of believers in Christ to carry out his mission. This is not a passive club that we show up to, put our dues in the offering plate and go home with a little bit of salvation. The believers are the church and the church is the believers. Yes, to guide our path we call a man specially trained to lead and shepherd us. Yes, we call teachers to bring up our children. Yes, we appoint leaders to help keep the chaos a bit organized. But you are still the church.
And the ministry of the church is more than Pastor Kiecker can do alone. It’s more than the preschool teachers can do alone. It’s more than the church council can even do alone. It’s up to all of us. Every believer working together to accomplish that mission to multiply the church, to share the gospel message, give the Holy Spirit his moment to work and bring others to the faith you know and treasure.
We’ve talked about the people who are hurting, we know how badly they need it. We know that could just as easily be you or me. And yes, maybe they’ll reject it. God doesn’t hold us accountable for that. He does hold us accountable if we never speak up. If we never do anything. How can anyone believe if they don’t hear and how can they hear if we don’t speak?
Now, I know we’re not all equally equipped. That’s part of the reason we have different roles in the church. We are not all here to do exactly the same things. But we all have gifts that can be used to carry out this ministry. Use them! Maybe it’s not a direct outreach effort, but it’s still work that supports that outreach. Whether it’s helping worship run smoothly for the visitor or keeping our facility beautiful to glorify God or taking some task off another’s plate so they can focus on larger priorities – we all talents and gifts to contribute to the ministry.
And let me just backpedal for a second and point out that ministry is not all about outreach, either. Remember I said the mission of the church is to Grow and Go. Becoming a believer means we are saved, 100%. But it’s also not the end of our earthly walk with God. Faith needs to be fed, nurtured, and grown. The ministry to strengthen faith right here in our own midst through regular worship and study and devotion is just as vital as the ministry to reach outside of our congregation. Look at Priscilla, Aquilla, and Apollos strengthening each other through instruction and study of God’s word prior to really tackling the task of reaching out.
What are you doing to grow? Are you making a point to attend Sunday bible study or one of the mid-week groups? Do you have a devotional habit to dig into scripture regularly on your own? Do you have someone you can reach out to for help when you wrestle with a difficult section of the Bible? If you don’t feel up to the task of reaching out, then start by reaching in – grow your faith in the Word here and help others do the same. And, if you’re not sure where to start – which is super common, then ask. Ask Pastor Kiecker, ask me, ask the leadership. Any of us can point you in the right direction and give you resources to get started.
Brothers and sisters, we are the church. We are the gathering of believers called to do his work. Study his word, learn from him regularly, build yourself up in that truth and then share it out there with those who so desperately need it. Ultimately the work of salvation is up to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who changes hearts and brings people to faith. The success of our mission is in his hands, not ours. But he has chosen to rely on us for the opportunity. Study the gospel, share the gospel, that more can know Jesus, that more can share Jesus, that the most can be saved. Amen.