Acts 16 gives us great insight into the spiritual power of the early church. Here are a few things that strike me.
1) They did more than what was required: This chapter comes on the heels of the decision that it was not required that Gentile believers become circumcised. However, Timothy’s father was a Greek and before traveling with Paul, he submits himself to circumcision because there were many Jews in the area. I was with the doctor when my son Noah was circumcised on his first day on earth. I remember my protective instincts as my beloved son screamed out in pain in response to the doctor’s scalpel. Imagining this rite being performed on an adult man sends excruciating discomfort into the heart of every male. The decision to be circumcised is especially surprising when you understand their particular mission was to go around and announce to the church that circumcision was unnecessary for Gentiles However to give the message even more authority, Timothy is himself circumcised so that none can criticize the ruling as a decision simply to avoid pain. It’s an important lesson that while we share grace with others we ourselves should not take advantage of that grace to simply live a life of ease.
2) A willingness to leave profitable ministry to go to unchartered territory. Paul and Timothy were having good success, but the Holy Spirit prevented them from continuing on their present path. Paul was given a night vision of a man in Macedonia crying out for help. Paul and Timothy went to the unchurched city of Philippi and started a church with one God-fearing woman down by the riverside.
3) Powerful ministry that shakes the city: Paul and Timothy were functioning in the power of the Holy Spirit so strongly that a woman fortune-teller working for a couple of businessmen in the city was delivered from her demonic powers causing these men to lose their incomes.
This story comforts me regarding my family’s present chapter in ministry. I am struck that spiritual power only comes from doing more than is required. Fruitful ministry in Knoxville will not happen without sacrifices that go beyond what is required. Our flock will not expand simply by changing the seating arrangement in our building and putting a sign out in front that says “come grow with us.” (We’ve already done those things). This notion would be the same as thinking that rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic could avoid disaster. To see the fruit we want to see will take sacrifice on all of our parts.
Coming to Knoxville for me was not unlike Paul’s decision to go to Philippi. Our family was minding our own business and experiencing fruitful ministry in a wonderful church in Southern Illinois. It was literally a night vision in Israel where the Lord confronted me about leaving a place of fruitful ministry to come to Bethesda. Bethesda is a small and loving congregation surrounded by a million people in the surrounding counties. In a recent survey we discovered that loving relationships and passionate spirituality were two of our top qualities. It reminds me of the pool of Bethesda where there were healing waters but these waters were surrounded by the lame, the blind, and the invalids. Our task is not to lay out by our pool and speak of its virtues while those arround us are perishing. Like Paul and Timothy we are going to have to do more than what is required and deliver those that are bound through the power of the Holy Spirit. This and only this will shake our cities until those profiteering in unrighteousness are put out of business.