Opening That Stubborn Pickle Jar

8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Acts 19:8-10

It’s well known that Paul faced opposition wherever he went. For many people, such opposition would be discouraging. You pour out your heart, and people are still unconvinced of the truth. There’s no way around that.

Missionaries in foreign lands, and especially in “closed” countries face this type of opposition regularly. Often they have to remain low key in order to stay in the country. When they begin to see a harvest of converts, both missionaries and Believers must remain “under the radar” so they do not attract the attention of government officials.

These missionaries face discouragement daily. They don’t see the fruit of their labors but it’s like opening a spaghetti or pickle jar. You twist and twist, but the manufacturers made sure it was very tight. You work at it, run hot water over it, tap it with something but still nothing. It won’t budge. Then you hand it someone else to help you with it. What happens? They open it on the first try.

Missionary work in closed countries is like that. No fruit despite countless hours of ministry and work. Still nothing. That family leaves the field, and another takes their place. Then the harvest begins.

Continue to pray for workers from around the world to be raised up to go to the unreached peoples of the world. Pray also that those serving in the difficult fields will find encouragement daily as they live their lives for Christ.

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What Power!

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

7 There were about twelve men in all. Acts 19:1-7

One of the teaching Paul had to address multiple times was that of the Holy Spirit. Many disciples knew about John’s teaching of repentance, but the Holy Spirit was a new concept to them.

Many today regard the Holy Spirit as “just” the third person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They do not realize the power that Christians have when the Holy Spirit enters their life. Even well-meaning Christians don’t enjoy the gifts and benefits the Holy Spirit freely gives:

  • Power to live a holy and sanctified life
  • Daily encouragement
  • Daily strength
  • Boldness and courage

Thousands of very books have been written about the Holy Spirit in the world and in the life of the Believer. The Holy Spirit lives in each person who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What Christians “do” with that free gift is entirely up to them.

If we only realized every morning that Almighty God is living inside us, that would revolutionize our thoughts, words, and actions.

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Train Up Apollos in the Way He Should Go

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 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. 26 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.

27 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. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. Acts 18:24-28

Apollos seemed to be a great student of the law and of Jesus. He had most of the Gospel right, and Priscilla and Aquila gave him the rest.

Then armed with the full Gospel of God, he was unstoppable.

All of these great men and women of the faith were exceptional at a few things. Then the Holy Spirit used their skills, talents, passions, and desires to achieve His purposes.

The Holy Spirit still uses us and whatever talents and passions we bring to the table.

Never forget that despite the obstacles and barriers you now face, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

Ask Him to use your giftings more, and He will.

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The Tedious Task of Discipleship

23 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. Acts 18:23

Sometimes the “boring” part of the ministry is settling down and getting into the trenches with the people who need it the most. Everyone sees the evangelist and the throngs who come to hear him speak, but those who are tasked and gifted with discipling, those masses often get overlooked and neglected. But God sees them, and they’re just as valuable as those more vocal.

  • He sees the second grade Sunday School teacher week after week when there’s no real “fruit” to her labors.
  • He sees the kitchen workers who work tirelessly during the semi-annual pot luck.
  • He sees the local businessman who takes time from work each summer to lend a hand at Vacation Bible School.

All are disciples who strengthen others but who also need strength.

If you know any of the above workers, be sure to write them a note to let them know how much you appreciate their dedication.

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Reaping the Harvest

19 They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. Acts 18:19-22

Those in the synagogues wanted Paul to spend more time with them. Why? Probably because he spoke with authority about a man who had changed his life. They were as Jesus said while He was still on earth, “sheep without a shepherd.” They needed guidance and instruction. Some of them were Believers; many were seekers. It’s a nice problem to have if you’re an itinerant evangelist.

The Holy Spirit was moving, not just where Paul was, but throughout the region. People were praying; seeds were being planted (and had been planted long long ago), and Paul was just helping to bring in the harvest.

Times are different. The Gospel is still the same. The fields are still “white unto harvest,” as Jesus said (John 4:35), but the reaping is limited.

These are confusing times. Still, many people are seeking God. They act that out in different ways, but they still seek Him.

Lord, we know these people exist, so we ask that you would lead us to the people who are hungry for you. Give us words during those times.

Amen.

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Vows

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. Acts 18:18

Why is Paul’s haircut a detail in the Book of Acts? Because he took a vow.

Why are vows important? It seems obvious but vows are promises made. Presumably it was a vow to God.

Proverbs in the Old Testament and Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament tell us about the importance of keeping vows. More precisely those verses warn us about being careful to know what we’re vowing before making a vow (Proverbs 20:25, Ecclesiastes 5:4, Matthew 5:34-47). It’s certainly a sound practice in life.

The practical application to this is simple: be extra careful about making promises to the Lord.

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Random Acts of Violence

17 Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever. Acts 18:17

Crispus was the synagogue leader who was saved in a previous verse. We don’t know the reason why Sosthenes was called out and beaten, but he was. The man who just waved his hand to release Paul didn’t care about a synagogue leader being beaten in front of him.

The story here isn’t about Sosthenes being beaten, as terrible as that was. The story is about how cold and cruel the Corinthian Jews and the proconsul Gallio was. It seemed like the Jews were trying to save face after Gallio dismissed them.

How did beating an innocent person help anyone? It didn’t. It was a random act of violence by angry and frustrated men.

Unfortunately this happens every hour of the day around the world: random acts of violence against unsuspecting people. Although it really isn’t random if the destroyer himself, Satan, is behind all the violence. It’s what he does. And it’s what he encourages his people to do.

We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens, but it’s still okay to be outraged about it.

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An Unlikely Ally

12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law – settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them off. Acts 18:12-16

Paul found an unlikely ally in Gallio. The Corinthian Jews believed they had a case against Paul, even though they never presented him with any evidence.

Gallio would have none of it.

He dismissed them with a few words.

Paul was probably surprised at Gallio’s actions. After all, Paul hadn’t met many leaders who were in favor of what he was doing. While Gallio didn’t say he was in favor, he didn’t condemn his actions either. It sounds like he considered the Corinthian Jews’ request an annoyance.

You and I will have these kinds of allies as well. But the unlikely ally that we should rejoice in is God Himself. It was highly unlikely that the Creator of the World could ever care about us. It was highly unlikely that God would ever try to have a relationship with us. And it was highly unlikely that God would send His Son into this rotten world to try to redeem it.

Rejoice today in your Unlikely Ally.

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Encouraging Others is a Good Thing

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. Acts 18:9-11

The first part of Paul’s vision was encouragement. We all need it. Paul needed it. How would you like the reassurance that you wouldn’t be hurt because of what you’re doing?

When the Lord “visits” us, we are encouraged immediately. It could be through a vision or a dream or just reading the Bible. You see, the Lord is always with us, and encourages us when we need it. Sometimes we need it more than others. Sometimes others need it more than we do.

Let’s face it, life is hard. There are lots of things that go against our moral fabric every single day. We all need that encouragement.

You can’t go wrong by encouraging a fellow Believer. Encouraging non-Christians and children to do the right thing is also a win-win.

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