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Lesson 47: Evangelizing, Empowering, and Equipping (Acts 19:1-10)

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This week I received one of the most incredible emails that I have ever received. It was from Michael Abel, who is with Gospel Recordings in Pakistan. I first met him when he visited our church a couple of years ago. In this email, he was passing on to us information that he has received to the effect that about 300 million lower caste people in India, called the Dalits, are on the verge of rejecting Hinduism and embracing the Christian faith!

The Dalit leaders have been meeting with leaders from the All India Christian Council, the largest evangelical network in India. The Council leaders have helped the Dalit leaders to realize that the ultimate freedom they were searching for could only be attained if their people know Jesus Christ. These Dalit leaders then opened their hearts to call their people to become Christians. This call will go out nationally to the 300 million Dalits next Sunday, November 4th, asking them to embrace the Christian faith. In fact, this mass exodus from Hinduism has already begun, with thousands here and there being reported as coming to Christ. The Dalit leaders’ request is, “The only way for our people to find freedom from 3,000 years of slavery is to quit Hinduism … and embrace another faith. Christianity offers hope for us. We would be happy if our people would know Christ and become Christians … can you help us?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God so moved in America that almost one-third of our population got converted within a short period of time? And yet, it would be an overwhelming task to handle that many seekers and new believers!

Our text records the establishing of the church in Ephesus. In Paul’s day, it was a city of about 200,000, noted as a center for magic arts and especially for its Temple of Artemis, a multi-breasted goddess. This temple was the largest building in the world at that time, as long as a football field, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. God opened the door for Paul into this stronghold of Satan, so that the church was established and “the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (19:20). In fact, “all who lived in Asia [western Turkey] heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). It was probably during this period that the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 were established.

Every Christian longs for God’s church to be established and extended as His word spreads mightily and prevails. Our text shows that for that to happen, there must be evangelizing, empowering, and equipping. The church must be preaching the gospel, it must be empowered through God’s Spirit, and pastor-teachers must be equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. All three were happening in Ephesus.

To establish and extend the church, there must be evangelizing, empowering, and equipping.

1. To establish and extend the church, there must be evangelizing.

Fulfilling his earlier promise to return to Ephesus if God willed (18:21), Paul returned about a year later, after Apollos had left for Corinth. He found about 12 men whom Luke describes as “disciples” (19:1), who had “believed” (19:2). But as Paul talked with them, he discerned that something was not quite right. Finally (we are given only a brief summary) Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The men replied that they had not even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. But since they were disciples of John the Baptist, and since John clearly taught that the Messiah would baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16), probably they meant that they had not heard that the Holy Spirit had been given in the sense that John had predicted.

So Paul explained to them that the one of whom John prophesied had come, namely, Jesus. No doubt he told them of His death on the cross as the substitute for sinners, of His resurrection from the dead, and of His ascension into heaven. When they heard the gospel, they believed in Christ and were baptized as a confession of their faith. Then Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying (19:6). Then Paul went into the synagogue and spoke out boldly for three months, until an opposition group forced him to take the disciples and meet in the school of Tyrannus, where he taught them extensively, resulting in the further spreading of the gospel (19:8-10).

First I want to focus on three lessons that our text teaches us about evangelism.

A. Some who need to be evangelized already believe and are in the church.

You’re saying, “What? If they already believe and are in the church, aren’t they saved?” Not necessarily! The question is, What do they believe? These men believed in the message of John the Baptist, but they had not heard how Jesus had fulfilled John’s preaching. Even though Luke calls them “disciples” (19:1), it is clear that they were not disciples of Jesus. In a similar way, there are many in evangelical churches today who believe in God, and perhaps even believe in Jesus in some general sort of way, but who are not truly saved. If you asked them, “Are you a Christian?” they would answer, “Of course I am! I’m not a Hindu or an atheist!” But in spite of their answer, they are not truly saved.

How can you tell? One way is to look for signs of spiritual life. We are not told why Paul asked them whether they received the Holy Spirit when they believed, but probably he sensed that something didn’t quite seem right. Maybe they didn’t understand spiritual truth as he talked about it (1 Cor. 2:14). Maybe the fruit of the Spirit was not evident in their attitudes and behavior (Gal. 5:22-23). But Paul sensed something that led him to ask a diagnostic question to determine where these men were really at spiritually: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (The KJV translation, “since you believed,” is in error.)

Sometimes you will be talking with someone who claims to believe in Christ and who has been in the church for years, but you sense that something isn’t right. The two diagnostic questions that Evangelism Explosion uses are excellent tools to determine where the person is at spiritually: “Do you know for sure that when you die you will be with God in heaven?” And, “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say?” Their answers will reveal what they are trusting in for eternal life. A person must believe that Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, paid the penalty for sin that we deserve when He died on the cross. And that person must personally receive God’s gift of eternal life by trusting in what Christ did for him on the cross. Any trust in human goodness, even if coupled with faith in Christ, reveals that the person does not understand the gospel and has not trusted in Christ alone for salvation.

B. When the gospel is rightly proclaimed, it draws a line that divides people.

Paul set something of a personal record here, in that he lasted for three months in the synagogue before opposition forced him out! He was “reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (19:8). Paul not only lectured, but also responded to their questions and challenges. He took them to the Scriptures to show that Jesus Christ is the promised Savior and King. “The kingdom of God” refers to more than the future millennial reign of Christ. It refers to the realm where Jesus is King or Lord. It encompasses all that is entailed in a life of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

Whenever you make it clear that human goodness and works have no merit toward salvation, and that Jesus Christ is the rightful King and Lord of all, some will respond in faith, but others will become hardened and disobedient, and speak evil of God’s way of salvation (19:9). Often those who oppose the most are those who are most religious. They take pride in their religion! How dare you suggest that they are sinners! How can you possibly say that they are not good enough to get into heaven? Every religion, except biblical Christianity, appeals to man’s pride by promoting a salvation through human goodness. But the gospel, rightly proclaimed, says that there are none good enough for heaven. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The only way that sinners can be justified is “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). That message divides people!

C. All who truly believe in Jesus Christ should confess their faith through water baptism.

John the Baptist had baptized these men when they repented for the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 3:3). But there is salvation in no one other than the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). Old Covenant saints were saved by believing in the Messiah to come. After Jesus came, it is necessary to believe in Him specifically. This was the transitional time between the Old Covenant era and the New. The fact that Paul has them baptized in the name of Jesus seems to indicate that they just now got saved. The name of Jesus does not mean that the baptismal “formula” must be Jesus only. Jesus taught plainly to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Luke is here focusing on the fact that their faith is now in the person of Jesus Christ, not just in a hope of Messiah in general.

Although those who advocate infant baptism would disagree with me, I believe that those who were baptized as infants, but who later come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, should be re-baptized as a confession of personal faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Infants cannot believe in Jesus and should not be baptized. There is no New Testament example or command to baptize infants. The whole argument is built on linking baptism with circumcision as the sign of the New Covenant, and on identifying the church as the new Israel. But baptism is always linked with saving faith in Jesus Christ (even in Col. 2:11-12, which links circumcision and baptism). It is an outward picture of the inward cleansing and new life that God imparts to the person who trusts in Christ. If you have believed in Christ but have not been baptized, I urge you to talk with one of the pastors and be baptized on December 2nd.

Thus to establish and extend the church, we must be evangelizing by proclaiming the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone.

2. To establish and extend the church, there must be empowering by God’s Holy Spirit.

After these men believed and were baptized, Paul laid hands on them and the Holy Spirit came upon them, causing them to speak in tongues and prophesy. This text has led to much confusion in modern Christian circles, primarily because interpreters do not keep in mind the transitional nature of Acts. Because of the unfortunate King James translation (“since you believed”), many in the Pentecostal movement have argued that not all believers receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation. They say that we should seek a “second work of grace” where we are baptized by the Spirit and speak in tongues. They make speaking in tongues the mark of whether or not a person has received the Spirit. I must be brief, but let me make three statements about the Holy Spirit:

A. All who have truly believed in Jesus Christ have received the Holy Spirit.

In Romans 8:9, Paul asserts, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” The Spirit of Christ refers to the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent. Even the carnal Corinthians had God’s Spirit dwelling in them (1 Cor. 6:19). Paul told them that the Spirit had baptized them all into Christ’s body, and that they all were made to drink of the one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul later wrote to the Ephesians, telling them that when they believed, they had been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). If a person does not have the Spirit indwelling him, he is not saved.

B. Speaking in tongues and prophesying are not the normative signs of receiving the Holy Spirit.

As a transitional book, Acts describes the outpouring or baptism of the Spirit as promised by Jesus just prior to His ascension (Acts 1:5). The initial reception of the Spirit happens with four groups in Acts. First, the Jews who believed in Christ received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (2:1-4, 33). Then, in Acts 8, the Samaritans believed the gospel, but they did not receive the Spirit until Peter and John came and prayed for them and laid hands on them (8:14-17). The reason for the delay was so that the early church did not divide into Jewish and Samaritan factions. The apostles saw that the Samaritans received the same Holy Spirit by faith that the Jews had received, and the Samaritans saw that they had to submit to the Jewish apostles. In Acts 10, Peter preached the gospel to the Gentiles, who received the Spirit at the moment of saving faith, much to Peter’s surprise. Here, these Old Testament believers living in Ephesus (which may represent “the remotest part of the earth,” Acts 1:8) are the last group to be gathered in.

In each case, an apostle was present to impart the Spirit to this new group. In Acts, receiving the Spirit and speaking in tongues were always group experiences, directly related to salvation. With each group (tongues is implied in Acts 8), the miraculous sign of tongues demonstrated that God was giving that group the gift of the Spirit. But it was a transitional sign, not normative for all times. In 1 Corinthians 12:30, Paul asks rhetorically, “All do not speak with tongues, do they?” If speaking in tongues had been a normative sign of receiving the Holy Spirit, he would not have said that. Even in other conversions in Acts, such as that of the Philippian jailer and his family, there is no record of such manifestations.

I believe that both in Acts and in First Corinthians, the gift of tongues was the miraculous ability to speak in a language that the speaker had not previously learned. It was not ecstatic utterances. In Acts 2, it clearly was languages, since the foreign speakers present heard the believers speaking in their native languages. The same Greek word is used everywhere for tongues. The fact that tongues require interpretation shows that they were not ecstatic utterances, since such noises cannot be objectively interpreted. Prophesying here seems to refer to spontaneous, Spirit-inspired praises to God, not to foretelling the future. My point is that tongues and prophecy were not the normative sign of conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit, whether in Acts or in the rest of Scripture. To make them such for our day is to misinterpret this transitional text.

C. Those who have received the Spirit through faith in Christ must learn to walk in the Spirit’s power.

While every genuine believer in Christ receives the indwelling Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion, walking in the Spirit’s power is not an automatic process. If it were, Paul would not have commanded us to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Sadly, there are many who profess to know Christ, but their daily lives are more characterized by the deeds of the flesh than by the fruit of the Spirit. We could well ask them Paul’s question here, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” If you did, why aren’t you walking in the power of the Spirit, so that He transforms your character and behavior to conform to Jesus Christ? Especially our families, but also those who know us, should be able to see evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. If they cannot, we need to make sure that we have trusted in Christ by faith, and we need to make it our priority to walk daily in the Spirit’s power.

3. To establish and extend the church, there must be equipping.

When Paul finally ran into stiff opposition in the synagogue, he withdrew with the disciples and reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus. An early manuscript (probably not original) says that it was from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, when the city would have been taking a midday siesta. The name Tyrannus means “tyrant,” and one commentator notes that since it is difficult (except in certain bleak moments of parenthood) to think of any parent naming his or her child “Tyrant,” this must have been a nickname given by the man’s students (Richard Longenecker, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 9:495). Paul would have worked at his trade in the morning hours (Acts 20:35) and then taught his students in this school building during the middle of the day. If he did teach for five hours every day for two years, it adds up to 1,500-1,800 hours of teaching, a substantial amount! The men who received the teaching went into the outlying areas and established churches, such as Epaphras did in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Col. 1:7; 4:12-13). The result was that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).

You can have evangelism and even empowering by God’s Spirit, but if there is no solid teaching, revival will go astray. Sound doctrine is the essential foundation for establishing solid churches. Paul later even warns these men, to whom he had declared the whole purpose of God, to be on guard against men from their own ranks who would speak perverse things, drawing away the disciples after them (20:27-30). In Paul’s final letters to the pastors, Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly emphasizes the need for sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:1, 6, 11, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:3, 20; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2, 14-16, 23-26; 3:10, 14-17; 4:1-5, 15; Titus 1:9, 13-14; 2:1, 7-8, 15; 3:9).

In our day, doctrine is being set aside, and experience and emotions are exalted. But if experience and emotions are not rooted in sound doctrine, they will not be biblical and will not sustain us or keep us from serious error. To establish and extend the church so that it is a vital force in future generations, we must devote ourselves to the teaching of God’s Word.

Conclusion

Wouldn’t it be exciting if we could substitute “Northern Arizona” for the word “Asia” in verse 10: “All who lived in Northern Arizona heard the word of the Lord, whether religious people or pagans”! For that to happen, we must commit ourselves to evangelizing the lost, we must daily rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, and we must equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

With reference to the situation I mentioned at the beginning of this message, Indian church leaders are asking churches around the world to mobilize for prayer for the potential opportunity of 300 million Dalits being open to the gospel. The forces of darkness will not be idle if 300 million people suddenly want to hear about Jesus Christ!

Next Saturday, a number of Christian leaders in the U.S. are calling for a special day of fasting and prayer for our nation in light of the current war against terrorism. Since Sunday in India begins while it is still Saturday here, I would ask you to pray not only for our nation, but also for this amazing potential movement of God’s Spirit in India. If 300 million lower caste people convert to Christianity en masse, it will shake the entire Indian social system to the very core, and probably spark a wave of persecution! It will flood the churches there with overwhelming needs. They are estimating the need for at least 10,000 more missionaries in the next few months so that they can adequately handle the masses of Dalits coming to Christ. What a problem!

Let’s close with a time of prayer for the church worldwide, but especially in America and in India, to be evangelizing, to be empowered by God’s Spirit, and to be equipping believers through the teaching of God’s Word.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can you talk about the gospel to someone who thinks that he is a Christian, but whom you suspect is not?
  2. If the true gift of tongues is speaking in a foreign language, how do you explain the current phenomenon of tongues as ecstatic utterances? Is it of God? Of Satan? Other?
  3. How can a believer learn to walk in the Spirit?
  4. A Christian says, “Doctrine is divisive and it is not relevant to where I live.” Your response?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2001, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Empower, Equip, Evangelism