Acts 8vs26-40. Church Growing Pains.
In witnessing for the Lord Jesus Christ two things are of paramount importance. The first is that the individual Christian is living in the Spirit and the second is that God is working by His spirit in the person being witnessed to. They are both illustrated here in this story of Acts 8vs26-40. As we work through it we will see, to begin with, six ways Philip was living and moving in the Holy Spirit of God. Then we will see five ways in which God was working in the Ethiopian eunuch to whom Philip had the chance to witness.
It is likely that this encounter was the first time an African had heard the Gospel and believed.
Jesus had said much earlier that the disciples would receive "power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses" 1vs8. Philip was a man in whom the fulness of God's Holy Spirit, could be seen, 6vs3 and 5. He was "known to be full of the Holy Spirit". It must be a constant prayer for us to know the continuing blessing of God the Holy Spirit in and on our lives. These six subsequent happenings show why.
1. Philip was listening to the Holy Spirit, 8vs26. God spoke directly to him, and Philip heard him. It was through an angel that God spoke. The command was to "Go". To obey would mean both action and movement. It was specifically to "Go south". That was against human logic and reason. Why should Philip leave a successful mission and go into the desert? But that was what God said, and he must obey. The church needs Christians who are listening to God's voice today, whether it is through an angel, through a human messenger, by a sermon, in a circumstance, or in regular daily Bible reading, we must hear Him.
If Philip had not listened, none of the rest would have happened. Jesus often said "He who has ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit says ... to the churches". Rev 2vs7, etc.
It is often good to ask a Christian congregation what they believe God is saying to them. What is He asking them to do? What challenge is He putting before them? In our Schools of Evangelism in Cornwall we usually give 2 or 3 "The Answer" tracts to the students. Having taught them to go through it with someone, we pray and trust God to put on to our hearts how we can use them during the course. Students have been so encouraged to see themselves being used by God. One farmer from near Liskeard actually gave away nearly fifty during a School, every one with a good word of personal witness. He prayed with several people to trust Christ.
2. Philip was walking in the Spirit, 8vs27. "So he started out". A walk begins with a step. It may be a tottering, staggering, unsteady step - holding on to something else for extra balance to start with like a toddler learning to walk. But it will lead to another step and another, until a lot of ground is covered in the end. Don't expect big things too soon and don't be disappointed too easily either. In Romans 8 Paul says: "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God", Romans 8vs14. Someone walking can be led. Someone not walking can be advised - but gets nowhere until he moves. A son has the Father's characteristics in him - he shows he has learned from and about his Father. As Jesus was always about his Father's business so should we be, whatever else we are doing and wherever we are. Are you walking with the Holy Spirit? It was "on his way" Acts 8vs27, he met the man he led to Christ. Are you on your way?
3. Philip was keeping in step with the Spirit, 8vs29. It would not have been enough just to have gone to the desert road. That was one step of obedience, but only one step. Had he stayed there by the roadside and purely watched this chariot go by, he would have been close to God's will, but not in it. And the Ethiopian would have stayed lost. The same Holy Spirit who told him through the angel to go south, now said "Go to that chariot and stay near it". In other words God was saying "Well done. Now move to continue what I have started". It was a specific command " - go to that chariot". He was going to be required there for a while "and stay near it". Keep going and stick at it.
It is the people that I have lived amongst for a while that pose the greatest challenge to me in personal evangelism. It is relatively easy to talk to someone you don't know and are never likely to see again. But the people we can spend a lot of time with over weeks and even years, are those who see us live out our Christianity. They watch us through the ups and downs of life. How do we know when God is telling us to speak more directly to them about Jesus Christ? I have found that as I pray for an opportunity with a particular person so God brings it about. One elderly man who lives near my office stopped me in the street and asked me about what I had written in the local newspaper. An ex-neighbour couple called me for help when their father was dying. Some of my fellow school governors have asked me what I believe and why. Every time these opportunities arise I can share something of Jesus Christ if I am walking in the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5vs25 says "Since we live by the Spirit, let's keep in step with the Spirit". Are you still in step with God? Are you completing what He started in and with you? Don't be proud and complacent about yesterday's achievements.
4. Philip was using the sword of the Spirit, 8vs30-33. His witness was based on God's authority and not on his own. He made good use of the Bible which was seen to be God's word. We are always looking for the conviction of God to come upon the sinner. That conviction is spiritual and is the work of the Holy Spirit. No-one can be argued into or out of conviction by the Holy Spirit of God. Ephesians 6vs17, 18 tie together two important things: "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" and "pray in the Spirit on all occasions". Paul encourages the personal worker to use God's word and to light the touch paper with his spiritual praying for the people he is witnessing to.
Philip began where the Ethiopian was (another lesson for us in witness) and it was obvious that he himself had an understanding of Scripture. When the eunuch begged for instruction - Philip gave it to him.
I remember a couple coming to dinner with Brenda and me. The wife was a believer and the husband was not. We went for an after dinner walk along the beautiful Atlantic Coast. The ladies were in front and I was chatting to this man about cars. Now I have virtually no interest in cars and even less knowledge about them. But this chap was very much into cars and so I began where he was - and listened politely. After quite a long while he said "I appreciate this conversation, and I must say I'm very grateful that you haven't buttonholed me about God. I thought you'd try to convert me." From that moment on, by asking him what he meant, by showing him what the Bible said about conversion and by sharing my own testimony this man was under the influence of the sword of the Spirit. He is now a lovely born again believer with a call to be a Christian in business.
Are you ready to be an instrument like Philip in God's hands? Are you ready to use the sword? Are you ready because you have prepared by getting a reasonable grasp of God's word?
5. Philip was following the mission of the Spirit, 8vs35. "He began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus." Jesus had said, John 14vs26, "the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." John 16vs8 "He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement." John 16vs14 "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."
Pushing yourself or your church is not the Holy Spirit's mission. He will "push" only Jesus. Do you follow Him on His mission? Even building bridges between Christians and non-Christians is of no value unless you cross the bridge and bring those people back with you - into the Kingdom of God. A bridge never saved anyone: Jesus Christ alone saves.
6. Philip was bringing assurance in the Spirit, 8vs36-39. Philip led this Ethiopian man to a place where he was committed to Christ - as evidenced by his baptism by immersion as a believer. Even if vs37 is suspect, and does not appear in all Bible versions, it is obvious from the fact the African was baptised, that he was committed to Jesus Christ. Whatever form it took, whatever words were used, he raised up a new flag over his life, the flag of Jesus' cross. Vs39 says "(he) went on his way rejoicing". He was happy as he knew his sins were forgiven and he began a personal walk with God in the Spirit through Jesus. Joy is one of the Holy Spirit's fruits. Make it your aim to lead people right through to a full experience of joy as a Christian. Do not be content with a number of decisions only. Real evangelism leads to new Christians being solidly cemented into God's building as living stones. We don't want isolated stones that easily move away from the right place and are lost to the building.
Romans 8vs16 "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children". Bring people to this point to see them really saved and trust God to continue His work in their lives.
So we have seen six ways the personal evangelist can speak effectively to people about Christ:-
- by listening to the Holy Spirit
- by walking in the Spirit
- by keeping in step with the Spirit
- by using the sword of the Spirit
- by following the mission of the Spirit
- and by bringing the assurance of the Spirit
It is as we work for God that God Himself works with us. The real blessing of this can only be learned by experience. The church I pastored in Ascot decided to visit the village house by house over a year. We prayed God would lead us to people in whom He was working. The schedule for visitation got further and further delayed as we found more and more people wanted to talk about Christian things. If we had not gone door to door we would never have discovered how God was answering our prayers in so many people. Many congregations do not go because they say, "people don't want to know about Christ". The truth is that Christians don't want to go and tell folk!
The activity of God is what we count on in our witnessing. We can only tune in to it by prayer and by walking in the Spirit. These five activities are always true and can be relied upon.
1. God had a plan, Acts 8vs26, 27. He spoke to Philip and "on his way", in response, God drew Philip into the plan. It could all have stopped if Philip was too busy to listen.
2. God had a person, 8vs27, 28. "on his way" home! God, who knows everything, planned for an evangelist to meet a ready heart in the middle of a boring desert - where there was plenty of time to talk!
3. God had prepared that person, 8vs28-31. The eunuch wanted to worship God, he wanted to understand the Scripture, and he was open to good teaching. The Spirit of God was already active in that man's life.
4. God had provided His word, 8vs32-33. This prophecy of Jesus as the Lamb of God was part of the way God chose to speak to the Ethiopian. His inspired word always has a place in the forefront of evangelism. He has given it to us, and we should use it. Evangelism without the Bible is like a gun with no ammunition. It may look the part but it will never achieve anything.
5. God's purpose was worked out, 8vs36-39. His plan, for these two men, was fulfilled. Philip led the Ethiopian to Christ. Then he was whisked off elsewhere by God. The Eunuch rejoiced as he journeyed home, because he had sought and found, God.
We put ourselves into the middle of God working out His will by praying in, following after, and being led by, the Holy Spirit of God.
By faith, go on your way this week - and lead someone to Christ.
By faith, pray and see God at work.
God will use you to your own blessing, in fulfilling His purposes for other people too.
This incident is not an isolated one in the book of Acts, although it may be the most detailed. Acts 10 details how God prepared both Peter and Cornelius for an encounter that resulted in Cornelius' household being saved. Acts 16vs13-15 we see how God brought both Paul and Lydia to the right place at the right time for another family conversion. These happenings enforce my belief that it is a partnership between prayer and personal evangelism that brings people to Christ. Either without the other is less than God intends. Let us make sure we use all our own abilities in conjunction with all of God's enabling to reach to people around and about us for Jesus Christ.
What is the next step God is asking you to take
as an individual?
as a fellowship?
Think of a situation where you would like to speak for Christ.
Decide on a small but specific opportunity.
Share in the group and pray for each other.
Pray for each other every day and watch for that opportunity.
How can a fellowship "solidly cement" new Christians into God's building?
Be specific in the context of your fellowship.