Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďPUBLIC CHRISTIANITYĒ

Acts 19.8-20

Luke in Acts 18.22-23 records the beginning of the Apostle Paulís third missionary journey:

22     And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.

23     And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.

These two regions of Galatia and Phrygia occupied most of what is today central Turkey.

In Acts 18.24-28, Luke records the ministry of Aquila and Priscilla to the eloquent but inadequately informed Apollos. In Acts 19.1-7, Luke relates Paulís interaction with some disciples of John, thereby showing us that Paul has now arrived in Ephesus, which is at the West end of what we know as the Turkish peninsula.

Paul would spend three years ministering in Ephesus. In Acts 19.8-12, we read of his activities in Ephesus over a span of about 27 months:

8      And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

9      But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

10     And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

11     And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:

12     So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.

A careful reading of verse 10 reveals that Paul did not confine himself to Ephesus during this period, but took appropriate excursions to expand and solidify the foundation of the gospel ministry throughout the region.

In Acts 19.13-20, we are told of a run-in with Jewish exorcists and the results God graciously produced:

13     Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.

14     And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.

15     And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?

16     And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

17     And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

18     And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.

19     Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

20     So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.

At this point, I want to pause and point out two things about Christianity in general and about the Apostle Paulís ministry specifically that we would do well to be very clear about. Biblical Christianity is a public faith and practice, not a private one. I know that many people today who claim to be Christians are extremely protective about their privacy, even supposing that their Christianity is a private affair that is solely between them and God. Such a position is entirely untenable in light of the testimony of Godís Word.

Two irrefutable observations to leave you with:

First, CONVERSIONS ARE THE RESULT OF PUBLIC EFFORTS TO EVANGELIZE

Let us not suppose that the historical record Luke provides for us is an account of Paulís ministry that is divorced from any application of his life and style of ministry from our own. There is too much evidence to the contrary to maintain that error. What Paul wrote to the Corinthians in First Corinthians 11.1 is as applicable to you and me as it was to them to whom it was written: ďBe ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.Ē Thus, what we see the apostle doing we should take care to apply with wisdom to our own approach to reaching the lost.

8      And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

9      But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

10     And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Three comments at this point:

First, I would like to comment about the requirement Paul necessarily set forth to those he disputed with and sought to persuade in the synagogue. He set before them irrefutable proofs from their own Hebrew scriptures the demand of God that they be saved from their sins. There is a time when God will judge the quick and the dead and He requires that all men be ready for that day. They, like all men, were members of a fallen race that stood opposed to the plan and purpose of God for their lives. They, like all men, were Godís enemies, despite being part of a chosen nation. They, like all men, needed their sins forgiven by God to be ready for the judgment of the great day, being without merit before God despite their very best efforts. What Luke makes specific reference to was that Paulís disputing and persuading was in connection to the kingdom of God. However, Jesus Christ is the King of the kingdom of God, who will set on the throne of His father David, in a millennial reign that will overspread the whole earth, and can be seen and entered by each of us only by means of the new birth, John 3.3 and 5:

3      Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

5      Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

There can be no doubt that Paulís message pointed out that the Messiah of Israel, the Jesus raised from the dead and exalted to Godís right hand that the apostle saw and served, demanded the compliance of all sinners. After all, no king asks, but demands and insists on subservience to His expressed will. Do we ever read in the gospels accounts of Jesus asking anyone to do anything? Not that I am aware of. My recollection has always been that King Jesus directs those around Him to do His bidding. Paul would communicate the same to his hearers.

Second, I would like to comment about the reaction of some to Paulís evangelistic efforts. Luke informs his readers that ďdivers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude.Ē Our response to reading this is, ďOf course.Ē Our experience agrees with this. When anyone hears the gospel of Godís grace and the truth concerning the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, he will either believe what he hears and respond or not believe what he hears and resist. What accompanies oneís denial of the gospel truth is a hardening to that truth. This is one of the New Testament passages that echoes back to Psalm 95.8-9:

8      Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:

9      When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.

This refers to hardening your heart like gristle.[1] Here is clearly shown one of the unrecognized consequences of rejecting the gospel. To hear without response results in real damage to your heart. Then, of course, to justify their unbelief, they ďspake evil of that way before the multitude.Ē Do you have an unsaved family member who has heard the gospel and to this point rejects opportunities to turn to Christ. I promise you, that lost loved one somehow speaks evil of the Christian faith or of Christian ministers to others. One young man in our church recently told me that a fellow who had attended a number of our services without coming to Christ, when asked why he was not coming to church anymore, just had to inform that lad that he disagrees with the pastor. Just one example of what Luke records here.

Third, it is appropriate for me to comment about the result from Paul to their unbelief, their hardness, and their vocal opposition to way expressed to the multitude.

9      But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

10     And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

Once they began to speak evil of the way before the multitude, Paul was left with no choice but to part company with them. Let me hasten to say that they likely did not openly oppose his message, since that was far too scripturally persuasive for them to oppose without looking to their audience like they did not believe the Bible. What was more likely was their expression of dislike for Paul, or their disapproval of his methods. However, Lukeís record is accurate, even though Paulís adversaries would have disagreed with Lukeís characterization of them. Oppose the gospel minister, opposed the gospel ministry, and you oppose the gospel. Speak against them and you speak against the way. It is important to note that their actions forced Paul to take the disciples with him. As well, there can be no doubt that he led them to limit their contact with those who believed not, who were hardened, and who spoke out. Who would deny that shepherds must separate the sheep from the wolves, and those who claim to be sheep who will not separate from the wolves are very foolish. Does not your child have enough to deal with as a sinner that he needs someone to badmouth your pastor or church? Are some people so foolish that they would expose their children and friends to badmouthing critics, who live to undermine a gospel ministerís effectiveness at reaching the lost? Tragically, the answer to that question is yes, some people value a casual friendship more than they value the precious soul of a son or daughter, or a lost friend.

CONVERSIONS ARE NOT ONLY THE RESULT OF PUBLIC EFFORTS TO EVANGELIZE. CONFESSIONS OF FAITH IN CHRIST ARE ALSO THE RESULT OF PUBLIC REPENTANCE.

11     And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:

12     So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.

13     Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.

14     And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.

15     And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?

16     And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

17     And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

18     And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.

19     Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

20     So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.

We stipulate that a difference between the apostleís evangelistic activities and our own is related to the miracles wrought by his hand. Let me point out that while I do not perform miracles, one thing verses 11-16 has in common with Godís dealings with sinners at present is His disregard for privacy. At the outset sinners are frequently concerned about keeping their private lives private, and I certainly do what I can to respect that privacy. However, my experience has been that God has no concern of any kind for your privacy, and once you are thoroughly convicted of your sinfulness by the Holy Spirit your concern with your privacy will evaporate. At some point in the process of Godís dealings with the lost things tend to become public. People will know, as verse 17 illustrates: ďAnd this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus.Ē

Though Luke is skimpy with the details, the last half of verse 17 provides us with enough information to know what happened with a group of sinners: ď. . . and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.Ē Thus, after separating from that first group of hardened unbelievers and continuing his outreach activities in the school of Tyrannus for about two years, a number of those Paul was now dealing with came to Christ. From this episode in Paulís life and ministry we learn some things:

First, we learn the requirement of separation. When those in the first group hardened themselves in unbelief and began to badmouth, Paul separated himself and those who followed him in order to cut off opportunity for the hardened unbelievers to do further damage. Beloved, this is sometimes necessary. It is highly unlikely that the wonderful results mentioned in verses 17-18 would have occurred had Paul and his disciples not separated from that first group. Therefore, what will some people discover at the Judgment Seat of Christ when they learn what God might have done had foolish church members not insisted on maintaining harmful relationships with hardened unbelievers who speak out against the ministry?

Next, notice the reaction . . . of God, of frauds, of a demon, and of Christians . . . fear. God enabled Paul to do marvelous things . . . after he and his disciples cut off contact with the hardened unbelievers who spoke against the ministry he was conducting. The frauds, the sons of Sceva, utterly failed in their attempts to counterfeit the Christian faith and witness. The demon was actually used by God to thwart their fraudulent attempts and ended up helping Paulís efforts. In the end, both saved and lost were filled with fear, the name of Jesus was magnified, there was an open confession of sins in public by new believers, and they destroyed the books they had used in their former idol worship.

Notice the result of what began by separating from stubborn ungodliness, what continued with faithful public proclamation of the gospel truth, and eventually resulted in conversions and confessions as God graciously blessed: ďSo mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.Ē

Reflect on what we have seen this evening. How will people hear the gospel and be saved unless Christians go public and figure out a way to tell the lost, through private conversation or getting folks to church? How will Christians be reminded of the exceeding sinfulness of sin unless they see public renunciation of sin in other Christianís lives? It is an undeniable fact that Christianity is to be lived in public where people can see it.

As well, we see that there are times when people react so adversely to the proclamation of the gospel that they not only refuse to believe, but they are hardened by their unbelief, and they begin to speak against the truth to others. Consider who has made a decision at that point. Who decided to harm whom at that point? Did Paul and his colleagues hurt anyone, or did those who opposed the truth seek to harm people? It was the latter, was it not?

My friends, when that happens the spiritual leader must remove himself and his flock from close contact with those who would speak against, from those who seek to do harm. This must be done for the benefit of the young, for the benefit of the immature, for the benefit of the unsaved you are trying to reach, and for the benefit of that hardened unbeliever who must be denied further opportunity to commit such terrible sins.

Can the distance created by separation be reduced over time? If there is a willingness to stop speaking against the way, yes, you can resume friendly contact with that lost person and seek his conversion to Christ. However, you must not continue allowing a hardened unbeliever to speak against the way, because it is not only harmful to your young and other unconverted people you want to reach with the truth, but because it dishonors God.

Allow me to illustrate: Suppose someone took you out to dinner and began to badmouth your mother and your father. Can you sit there and take it without being disrespectful to your parents, and at the same time dishonoring them? No, you cannot. In like manner, you cannot allow someone to speak against the way without dishonoring and being disloyal to God.

Sometimes choices have to be made. You do not want to make such choices, but they are forced on you by those hardened in unbelief who speak against the way. When such a time of decision as that is forced upon you, do what Paul did. If you will, God will give you fruit as He gave Paul fruit, and the Word of God will grow mightily and prevail.



[1] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol III, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1930), page 314.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org