Text: Acts 8:1-8
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him [Stephen] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city.
I. God uses adverse circumstances for His glory
This is a story I have heard: Once there was a young man who broke his hip after falling off a horse. When he complained about it, his wise father said to him: “How do you know this wasn’t a good thing that happened to you?” Soon after, a war began between their village people and another tribe. Ninety percent of the young men from his village died in the war.
Here is another story from my life: One time while on vacation in Florida, my wife convinced me to stop for a few minutes while on the way to the airport. Since we only had a margin of a few minutes I wasn’t very happy with this diversion from our destination. I relented and agreed to go with her into a shop off the highway. God gave me a burden for the young lady waiting on us and I began to share with her things the Lord laid upon my heart. When we left she and I hugged and she cried on my shoulder. I gave her my card and told her to call me, that I could help her if she needed to make a change. Within three months she called me and I set her up to live with another couple in our church who eventually adopted her future son. Now she is a strong believer and her son is in a strong, stable family. The destinies of many people were altered because of a God-ordained circumstance that I didn’t recognize at first. We need to take advantage of the circumstances that God brings our way and not always think they are distractions or a waste of time.
Biblical example: Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt and even went to prison because of false accusations from his master’s wife since he repelled her sexual advances. Because he kept his integrity, he was eventually exalted as the second in command of the nation. While in that position he uttered these famous words to his brothers who sold him as a slave: “What you meant for evil God meant for good, to preserve and save many lives” (Genesis 50:20).
In Acts 8, we see how the early church adopted to a great persecution against them. Even though they were displaced and lost everything, the disciples preached the word wherever they were scattered. The result was the planting of the first non-Jewish church in the city of Samaria.
Also, Paul said that God used his difficult circumstances to spread the gospel (Philippians 1:12-14).
Those who are going to live significant lives of purpose and meaning will have to see God at work in every difficult circumstance — and even interruptions — that come their way. Paul said that our mess is meant by God to become our message (2 Corinthians 1:3-6).
II. How the city received the gift of joy
Philip: a model of how faithfulness is rewarded by God.
1. Philip was faithful in waiting tables, so God gave him a city to turn upside down! (Philip was one of the seven set in as deacons in Acts 6:1-7; all of the apostles faithfully served in the ministry of helps before Jesus released them to turn the world upside down!)
Even though Philip probably already knew he was called to be an evangelist he humbled himself and waited on tables because it was the greatest need given the dire circumstances of his local church.
2. He preached the word with great power in spite of losing everything because of the persecution against the church.
God used him in the gifts of healing and deliverance to prove the power of the resurrection of Christ. This resulted in great joy being released in the city.
One reason the city was so ready to hear the word was because Jesus had already preached the gospel to them as shown in John 4. Thus they were ripe!
We never know how ready people are to receive the word. We need to trust that Jesus has already been working in the hearts and minds of those God puts in our paths. (The gospel is about celebrating what God is already doing in people as opposed to thinking that we are creating a move of God when we preach.)
III. The Body of Christ is called to bring joy to a city
1. Not everyone has to operate in the gifts of healing in the same way Philip did to bring joy to a city.
2. Healing and deliverance come in many forms and through many modes. They can come through family counseling, education, job empowerment, rehabilitation centers, love, acts of kindness, the creation of jobs, etc.
3. When we began ministering here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn this community was a mess. I can look back at the past thirty years and see how three organizations–all started by Christians to glorify God — have dramatically improved the quality of life in this community: The Center for Family Life, Turning Point, and Children of The City. I don’t know where this community would be if it were not for these three entities.
4. Read 1 Corinthians 12:14-18, 28-31.
5. The corporate church together has the ability to meet the needs of a city. Even Philip couldn’t do it alone as he was gifted only in bringing the word to people. But he needed Peter and John to come and establish the church in the faith. God actually removed Philip from this revival so he could minister to the Ethiopian eunuch later in Acts 8. His gift was introducing people to Christ, not grounding them in the faith.
6. “I don’t need to see if I am in a body because somebody else will have the gift of sight while I can be their ears. I may only have the gift of hearing, but I can see through others who have the gift of sight; or perhaps I can walk but cannot work so I receive help from the hands! In Christ the things we do not know others do, and we may know them and enter into the enjoyment of them through others” (from page 217 of The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee).
7. The vessel God wants to reveal to this generation is not one person but His church! Romans 8:29: the glory of God is seen in His body, not in one individual. The whole body conforms to the image of Christ. The greater works will not be done by one individual but by His corporate people (John 14:11-12).
In closing, what is it you are called to do to bring joy to those around you? Are their ways you can identify how you can serve with our church to bring Christ to our community and city?
The first step in bringing joy is bringing Christ to a community or family.
Once someone knows Christ, others in the church will minister to them according to their gifts.
God has no individual superstars on the earth. He is looking for a unified group of people who will form one body and glorify Him with their good works (Matthew 5:16).
This post was originally published on Aug. 22, 2010.