Live so the gospel prevails.
Acts 19:20: So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. In other words, what got them out of bed in the morning was not an alarm clock, but a calling. The calling to live so that the gospel would prevail. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: Live so the gospel prevails. Live so the gospel prevails. Feel free to wake up to an alarm clock but get out of bed for the greatest calling imaginable. Get out of bed so that you can take your dignified place in the advance of God’s Kingdom and live so the gospel prevails in our generation. How do we live so the gospel prevails? Luke shows us two ways: play your God-given part and let the gospel prevail over you.
ESV Study Bible
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Acts of the Apostles, by David Peterson
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, by Tony Merida
NIV Application Commentary, by Ajith Fernando
INTRODUCTION & BIG IDEA
I once heard a well-known pastor from California ask his church this question: What gets you out of bed in the morning; an alarm clock or a calling? It’s a great question if you think about it. What gets you out of bend in the morning; an alarm clock or a calling? In our passage today we are going to learn from people who lived for a calling. In Acts 18:24-19:20, Luke introduces and reintroduces us to different people in the city of Ephesus. There is Apollos the eloquent and bold preacher, there is Priscilla and Aquila who gently correct Apollos’ theology so that he can be more effective, there is the Apostle Paul who stays at it in Ephesus after Apollos is long gone, and then there are the relatively new and young Ephesian Christians. After introducing us to these diverse characters with diverse callings and gifts, Luke summarizes the result of the way that they each lived. Acts 19:20: So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. In other words, what got them out of bed in the morning was not an alarm clock, but a calling. The calling to live so that the gospel would prevail. That brings us to the big idea of our passage: Live so the gospel prevails. Live so the gospel prevails. Feel free to wake up to an alarm clock but get out of bed for the greatest calling imaginable. Get out of bed so that you can take your dignified place in the advance of God’s Kingdom and live so the gospel prevails in our generation. How do we live so the gospel prevails? Luke shows us two ways…
PLAY YOUR GOD-GIVEN PART
ACTS 18:24-28 – Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. The gospel begins to prevail in Ephesus because Apollos and Priscilla and Aquila play their God-given part. Apollos is an ethnically Jewish man from the ancient capital of Egypt who has been converted to faith in Jesus and clearly has speaking gifts. He works hard to be competent in the Scriptures, is fervent in the Holy Spirit, and plays his God-given part in the gospel prevailing in Ephesus by traveling there to speak boldly about Jesus. He lives so the gospel begins to prevail in Ephesus. Unfortunately, Apollos only knew the baptism of John, and not the baptism into Christ. What this probably means is that Apollos taught accurately that Christ died and rose for sins and that we have to respond through repentance, which is what John’s baptism was all about. However, Apollos probably didn’t know that those who repent and believe in Jesus are actually in Christ and Christ is in them so that the old them is dead and they’ve been raised to new, eternal life in Christ, which is signified through Christian baptism. When we are plunged under the water of baptism, it’s a picture of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection through faith. Apollos taught the way of Jesus accurately as far as he knew, but he didn’t know all that. Here enters Priscilla and Aquila who play their God-given part so that the gospel prevails in Ephesus. This couple is not nearly as educated as Apollos, but they’ve had the privilege of sitting under the Apostle Paul’s preaching and teaching. The godly couple recognizes the deficiency in Apollos understanding of union with Christ and baptism, take him aside privately and gently teach him the way of Christ more accurately. Apollos humbly learns from the gentle correction and is far more effective as he travels on to boldly preach Christ in new regions. Apollos has more up-front speaking gifts, Priscilla and Aquila have more behind the scenes serving gifts, and in playing their God-given part they live so the gospel prevails in Ephesus.
As we transition to Acts 19, Apollos roles out of Ephesus and Paul roles in. As soon as Paul arrives, Paul meets some disciples of John the Baptist who have never even heard of the Holy Spirit, meaning that they had not heard of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and therefore they probably had not heard much of Jesus’ life and ministry, and certainly not of his death and resurrection. Paul proceeds to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to these Ephesians, they’re converted, baptized, and experience their own miniature Pentecost with the Holy Spirit being poured out so that they prophesy and speak in tongues. But it’s what Paul does next that shows how Paul plays his God-given part so that the gospel prevails in Ephesus. Acts 19:8-10 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. Apollos plays his God-given part by getting the work of the gospel started in Ephesus and then leaving, but Paul plays his God-given part by being the one who stays for the long haul, over two years, so that the gospel both drills deep and reaches wide in Ephesus and the surrounding area through leaders and teachers that Paul trained up and sent out. Paul plays his God given part by staying put in Ephesus so that the gospel prevails in Ephesus.
Let’s begin to take this personally: How can you play your God-given part in living so that the gospel prevails in our generation? The Bible says that each Christian has received at least one spiritual gift and many talents that we should use to the best of our ability so that we can serve one another and play our part in living so that the gospel prevails. The Bible says that these spiritual gifts generally breakdown into two categories; speaking gifts and serving gifts. Of course, all Christians are to speak the gospel and all Christians are to serve, but some are particularly gifted to speak so that the gospel prevails and others are more gifted to serve so that the gospel prevails. Which category do you think your spiritual gifts and God-given abilities fall? Do you prefer to be more behind the scenes, caring for needs, and working with your hands, so to speak? Then you probably have serving gifts. How can you begin using those gifts so that the gospel prevails in our generation? Who in your Citygroup needs particular care and mercy in this season? One very practical way to use your serving gifts so that the gospel prevails is by going to citylightphilly.com/compassion and signing up to serve with Citylight Compassion Initiative. On the other hand, do you love to lead and teach? Then you probably have speaking gifts. Who in your Citygroup would benefit from being discipled and reading the Bible one-to-one with a believer who loves God’s Word? Use your speaking gift to serve them. Consider asking your Citygroup leader to begin helping you develop in your ability to lead a Citygroup or asking one of the pastors to help you grow in your knowledge of and ability to teach the Bible. Any one of us would love to do that. Play your God-given part so that the gospel prevails in our generation. Quick parenthesis before we move on. Many of us in Citylight Church are part of Philadelphia’s transient culture and we sort of take for granted that we’re just hear for a little while. But I want you to at least consider that the reason why Paul was able to have such a lasting impact in and around Ephesus is because when others left, he stayed put and stayed at it. Perhaps God’s calling you to play that part. Friends, when you cheerfully play your God-given part day in and day out, you’re living so that the gospel prevails. Let’s turn now to the second and final way to live so the gospel prevails…
LET THE GOSPEL PREVAIL OVER YOU
Acts 19:11-20 picks up the very next scene in Ephesus – And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul [Let’s pause here to notice that Luke is prefacing the narrative by telling us that what we are about to read is an account not of what is ordinary to the Christian faith, but what is the extraordinary work of God through his Apostle. Though everything we read about next can happen today, there is no reason to expect it to be an ordinary part of your Christian experience today because it wasn’t ordinary then.], 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. In this scene, Luke shifts his focus to the ordinary believers in Ephesus. Before coming to faith in the Lord Jesus, the Ephesians practiced magic arts and, apparently, after they were genuinely converted to faith in Jesus, they didn’t make a clean break with their old ways, but secretly held onto them as is often the case for Christians. But then the Ephesian Christians witness what you could call a power encounter. A group of Jewish men who don’t follow Jesus unsuccessfully attempt to exorcise a demon and are beaten by the demon possessed man because they don’t have the powerful Spirit of Christ in them. The Ephesian Christians witness this, are gripped by the fear of the Lord, and as a result, the they begin confessing and divulging that though they trust Christ as Lord, they’ve secretly held onto to godless aspects of their past, like occult magic. Gripped by the fear of the Lord, they publicly confessed Jesus as Lord by bringing their magic books into the open and destroying them at astronomical personal cost. The gospel prevailed over them so that the gospel could prevails through them. These already converted Ephesians were set free from the power of their present sins, which allowed them to then live so that the gospel would prevail through them in their generation.
Let’s begin to take this personally: Christian, how does the gospel need to prevail over you so that it can prevail through you? Perhaps for you it’s similar to the Ephesians. Maybe there is something incredibly concrete in your life that you need to, so to speak, destroy because it doesn’t match your new life in Jesus? Even though you’re a Christian, maybe you still do dabble in new age, occult, or secret practices and magic. When I was at Penn State, I was invited to and joined multiple secret societies. Soon after graduation I chose to become inactive in those groups, but recently I officially retracted my membership in each group because my conviction is that those allegiances simply don’t match my commitment to Jesus. The gospel needed to prevail over that part of my life. Maybe you’re a Christian but you have a secret life of pornography use, or you drink too much. Maybe you’re dating someone that you know isn’t helping you grow in your love for Jesus. Maybe you’ve established less than godly patterns in your marriage, your career, or in the way that you related to your money or your body. As we’ve discussed recently, perhaps you’re harboring indifference toward issues of racial justice or harboring resentment toward other Christians or the church because of differences convictions related to COVID-19 and church regathering. Friend, will you let the power of the gospel prevail over you? Like the Ephesians, will you bring your sin out into the light and make a decisive and, perhaps, public break with it? Will you let the gospel prevail over you today and every day so that you can live so the gospel prevails in our generation? Very concretely, I want to invite you to take a moment now and write down on a piece of paper or type into your phone one specific way that you can either play your part or let the gospel prevail over you so that the gospel can increase and prevail through us in our generation.
Your next step may be quite costly for you. Do you remember what it cost the Ephesians to break with their old way of life and burn their magic books? 50,000 pieces of silver. A piece of silver was a day’s wage. That’s 50,000 days wages! If you make $50k a year, that $6.8 million. What can motivate such costly living so the gospel prevails in our generation? Nothing less than having the inestimably valuable Christ! The Bible says that he is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. This inestimably valuable Christ took on flesh, made purification for our sins at the cross, and is resurrected to the right hand of the Father. If you’ve received him with the empty hands of faith, then that Christ is in you and you’re in Him forever. No cost is too high to live so the gospel prevails because you’ll never lose Christ the true treasure.