2013 Acts #26: an exposition of Acts 17:1-9. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, November 17, 2013.
What image comes to your mind when you hear the term “ministry”? Too often, today, the image is that of a business wrapped around an individual. Isn’t that the way it is portrayed in the media? We hear about someone’s ministry. Certain television preachers have “ministries” that are in trouble. Or a high profile preacher’s ministry goes under and the media speculates whether they will ever have another “ministry.” They are not speculating whether they will ever again be used of God to impact another person’s life or declare the glory of God – they are wonder if they will ever open up shop again. Will they ever have another enterprise? But lest we think too highly of ourselves – we can fall into the same trap. If we are not careful we will think of our ministry in the same terms. We might be inclined to think of buildings, programs and services rather than of love, encouragement and obedience.
From time to time it is important for us, as a church, to evaluate where we are and what we are doing. It is important for us to remember that nothing happens by accident or by chance. It is no accident that 83 years ago a group of believers came to build a church on this corner. We, by the providential working of God, have been placed at a strategic crossroad within this community to impact it for the kingdom of God. The question we must ask is, “Are we impacting this community?” If so, how? If not, why not?
What does it take to reach a community?
What kind of ministry is required to impact the culture around us?
Is it money, media and presentation?
Is it music, glitz and glamour?
How about tradition, substance and longevity?
Just what is needed if we are to have any real, lasting impact on an increasingly secular society? For some answers we turn again to the book of Acts.
Text: Acts 17:1-9
Acts 17 is a tale of three cities.
Dr. Luke tells us of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, Berea and Athens.
Thessalonica had a rich and varied history.
At the age of 33, Alexander the great sat and wept because there were no other lands to conquer. His dream was to unify the world. He dreamed of a world with no distinctions. A world where Greek language and culture dominated. Macedonia was established by Alexander and named for his father, Philip of Macedon. The city of Thessalonica, named after his sister, was the capital. Thessalonica, a free city, was located on the Egnatian Way – the main Roman road moving east to west. It was a religious city, a commercial center and was known as a great melting pot. Sophisticated Greeks from Athens, barbaric peoples from the North and retired Roman soldiers and politicians, populated the city. Thessalonica also boasted of a large Jewish population and a number of God-fearing Gentiles. It is to this complicated metropolitan city that Paul and his companions came with the message of the Gospel.
It is clear – given the context – that God providential guided them to this city. We read in chapter 16 how the Spirit had forbidden their moving eastward and then the Macedonian call. Now they move into these very important cities. Thessalonica is crucial because from Thessalonica the Gospel can move to the East into Asia and west to Rome itself.
As we explore the 17th chapter and ask about their ministry we discover some important truths for us to keep in mind. Primarily this passage reminds us that:
Thesis: Impacting our community demands a life-transforming ministry.
I’m convinced that each word I’ve chosen is significant.
Yes, we are to be engaged in ministry – but a specific kind of ministry.
I know that it is “trendy” to talk about being “transformational.”
I struggled with using the term because of the baggage.
But it is the right term.
We are called to make a difference in this community.
We are called to be agents of change in the lives of those with whom we cross paths.
Now in our text we find three characteristics of life-transforming ministry. Characteristics that ought to be evident in our work throughout this community.
I. Life-transforming ministry rests firmly on the Word of God. (17:1-3)
In Thessalonica Paul followed his normal pattern.
You will recall he did not go to the synagogue in Philippi because there wasn’t one!
There he went down to the river – to the place of prayer.
Because of a significant Jewish population in Thessalonica he went to the synagogue.
Why did he go there?
It was a point of contact.
Because of their acceptance of the OT Scriptures and their belief in God – they were most open to what Paul had to say.
This is one of the characteristics of a Gospel centered approach – find a point of contact.
Find some common ground from which to work.
This is the intent of the “seeker sensitive” approach.
Find out where people itch and scratch!
There is nothing wrong with this approach provided it does not become the end itself.
We seek to meet felt needs to win the right to speak to genuine needs!
What is needed in the community?
Ministry to shut ins?
Job fairs, job training?
Seminars on finances?
After school programs?
This is all about meeting people where they are but this is just the beginning.
The united way can do all of these.
We must seek to move them toward the Gospel.
What did Paul do once he made contact?
He taught them the Scriptures – 17:2.
This is our starting point in impacting the community – teach the Word.
Isaiah 55:11 – “God’s word does not return empty…”
Paul did not just quote the Scripture:
He reasoned with them from the Scripture.
Greek root = dialogued
There was an exchange – question and answers
All from the Scriptures.
He explained the Scripture to them.
Greek = opened, used for the opening of a womb – Lk 2:23
Used in Lk 24:31-32 – Jesus’ sermon on the road to Emmaus
Clearly, simply set forth the truth.
He proved that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had to die and rise again.
Greek = giving evidence
Place before or place beside
No ministry can honestly be called Christian that neglects the Word of God and the preaching of the Gospel. This is the heart of life-transforming ministry. In fact I’ll go so far as to say no ministry will be any stronger than its ministry of the Word.
Read the book of Acts – read the sermons, read the descriptions of ministry – at the heart of it all is the preaching of the fact that Christ, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Any ministry that neglects these vital truths neglects the very thing God blesses.
But I want you to note a second characteristic of this type of ministry.
II. Biblically based ministry naturally creates division/opposition and controversy. (17:5-9)
Here me out, I don’t believe we need to go looking for trouble or strife.
It will find us!
We don’t have to set out to make folks mad – it just comes naturally.
Consistently throughout Acts – when the Gospel is preached – it makes enemies.
What was Paul’s initial reaction to the Gospel?
He hated the church – he sought to wipe it from the face of the earth.
It was a different message – a contrary message – about how to be right with God.
The way of the Pharisee was the way of works righteousness.
It was about being good enough to be loved by God.
It was about being better than others.
The Gospel says, “You are no better than anyone.”
No matter how hard you work or how much you strive, you’ll never be good enough.
In stead, quit striving.
Trust in God.
Now many in Thessalonica believed – 17:4 – but others were enraged.
17:5 – “jealous” = means to burn with envy
They gathered a group of thugs to cause a riot and stir up trouble for the young church.
They managed to “set the city in an uproar.”
Note the charge 17:6 – wouldn’t that be a great endorsement for ministry?
This charge was true enough – the lie was in the second charge – 17:7.
I’ve really come to believe from reading Acts and Paul’s epistles – if you are faithful in preaching the Gospel as it appears in the Scripture – you will be misunderstood and accused of all kinds of things! Read Paul in Romans in particular. He was constantly addressing misunderstandings that he knew would arise from what he wrote – Romans 5:18-6:2.
This anger and this confusion comes because the message is too good to be true!
Here is the Gospel – Romans 4:3-5!
Now that’s radical – and that will get you in trouble with the religious crowd.
Life-transforming ministry is Gospel centered and that fact alone will ensure misunderstanding and lead to opposition. Let alone when you begin to get into the exclusivity of our message. Salvation in Christ alone!
There is one last characteristic I want us to note.
III. This biblical, controversial ministry produces God-honoring results. (17:4, 1 Thess. 1:6-10)
We are told in the opening verses of our text that Paul’s ministry was 3 Sabbath days.
Some argue that it had to have been much longer.
They reason – three weeks is not long enough to establish a church.
Of course the problem with their math is they are leaving out part of the equation.
After just three weeks Paul left behind:
A struggling group of believers.
And the Holy Spirit!
Notice the initial ingathering – 17:4.
Then turn to 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10.
The preaching came in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and power – 1:5
The people received the word with eagerness – 2:13
The people modeled their lives after Paul’s – 1:6
They became models themselves – 1:7
They became a missionary church – 1:8
This is the result of authentic Christian ministry. Paul was greatly used of God to impact this city – but it wasn’t about Paul. When Paul was gone – the church flourished. Wouldn’t it be grand if God chose to do a mighty work through us that greatly impacted this entire part of the city for Christ? If that is to happen we must make sure our ministry rests firmly on the Word of God. It must be Gospel-centered. We must prepare ourselves for opposition and misunderstanding and we must pray for lasting, God-honoring results.
If we are to make any real difference in this community we must engage in life-transforming ministry.