The Power of Paul’s Preaching

The Power of Paul’s Preaching
Robert Wurtz II

Moreover you see and hear, that not only at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are no gods, which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger of ruin; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana will be despised, and her magnificence will be destroyed, whom all of Asia and the world worships. (Act 19:26-27)

Demetrius is expounding the effects of Paul’s preaching at Ephesus. He was hostile over it, and was trying to incite an uproar among the unbelievers. It is interesting to note that the Jews had long ago established a synagogue at Ephesus, and undoubtedly would have (at least in theory) detested idols and pagan practices; nevertheless, their presence had no meaningful effect as compared to Paul’s preaching. Ponder that fact for a moment. A synagogue in years was unable to do what one man had done in mere months. With this fact in mind I wish to consider the power of Paul’s preaching.

I have no doubt that one of the great needs in our times is to rediscover what exactly Paul preached. Men have come along and dissected his teaching, debated his doctrines, and distorted his message. What did the man preach? The Holy Spirit has gone to great lengths to make sure we put it all together, but somehow we have missed it in the main stream.

Benjamin Franklin one said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about.” Paul did both. In fact, he is without question one of the most famous men who ever lived. His writings are on the pages of the New Testament epistles, and his deeds are recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. Much of what we know of him is found in narratives such as our passage above. Other important information he provides in his letters. Taken together we find a man whose bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible; nevertheless, this Paul persuaded and turned away many people from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God. 

Aiming At the Heart

The Lord Jesus talked about salt that had lost its savour as being effectively worthless. Salt that is ineffective is trod under foot. This is what was happening in Ephesus with the Synagogue. Here were people that knew God’s word, but they were not preaching it, or not preaching it effectively. Paul was different. His preaching had such an effect that he was nearly killed by angry mobs on numerous occasions. Understand that he was not trying to start a riot on these occasions, anybody can do that. All you have to do if spout off a bunch of reckless, inflammatory statements. This is not what Paul was doing. He was preaching repentance from sin, and that the people needed to bring forth proof of their repentance. He was opening the eyes of those who were blinded by the Devil- with a view to turning them from him and his ways. He reasoned with men and women, of sin, righteousness and judgment to come. As did Felix, many people would have trembled. Some may have even told Paul he was crazy as did Agrippa. Many, according to Demetrius, forsook their life of sin. Nevertheless, this was the effect of a man’s preaching (as the old timers would say) who aimed the word not over their heads; not at their feet, but directly at their hearts.

Effective Preaching

Paul understood something that we, must likewise understand, if we, the churches of God, are to ever be effective in ministry. We have to agree with the Holy Spirit in our preaching. If we do, He will back the words with conviction of sin. If we do not, He has little to go on but impressions He can make upon the conscience in other ways. God has ordained that people be changed by “the foolishness of preaching.” Why? Because even the weakest and most despised measures are able to affect change when the Holy Spirit is directly involved. Paul’s message matched the Holy Spirit’s mission; And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8) He has not come to give us goose bumps or esoteric feelings of a presence; He has come to convince, convict, reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. 

When Paul was before Festus, Felix, and Agrippa, he told these men exactly what he had been preaching since he was born again. He was on the road to Rome to die under Nero, but wanted the world to know, for all ages, what he preached. Luke recorded his words, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for our example and learning. I would encourage the reader to examine carefully Acts 18-28, especially his answers before Felix, Festus and Agrippa. There he spells it all out in black and white.


A Final Message


When Paul had gone before Nero and was about to be (by tradition) beheaded, he sent a final message to Timothy, who was also a leader at Ephesus. He wrote:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2Timothy 4:1-5)

Paul is passing his methodology (modus operandi) to Timothy. In fact, he is charging him before God to do it. Paul is saying, in effect, “Do what I do… preach like I preach… say the kind of things that I would say.” Why? Because that is what agrees with the mission of the Holy Spirit. Compare these passages, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine… and again…  And when He (Paracletos/Comforter/Holy Spirit) is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8) Here, the Spirit, the Word and Paul agree. He wants Timothy to agree as well, and carry on the pattern. Understand that these are Paul’s last words. This is his death bed confession. His words here, as I understand it, would be admissible in a court of law as evidence. He is telling us what is most dear to his heart- the most important thing.

 

  

The Heavenly Reward

The Heavenly Reward
Robert Wurtz II

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(A)”> We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(B)”> for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(C)”> those who through faith and patience<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; line-height: normal; vertical-align: top;" value="(D)”> inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:10-12 NIV)


Our passage is a great encouragement to those, that by implication, are overlooked in the service of the Lord. The writer states first, God is not unjust. That is to say, God will not withhold the reward that He has determined and ordained for you to receive. He will seek no opportunity to keep back by fraud the wages of the laborers that have worked in His fields (James 5:4). Not that God has ever owed man anything; but rather, He is determined to reward those good works He has proposed. He is the gate-keeper of the Heavenly storehouse where moth and rust doth not corrupt, nor thieves break through to steal. Secondly; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him. Here ‘forget’ is the Greek word epilanthanomai (ἐπιλανθάνομαι) and it means to forget either by carelessness/accident (James 1:24, Matthew 16:5) or intentionally (Philippians 3:13). At any rate, it will not happen with Him; the omniscient God will not forget your work and the love you have shown him


The greater blessing

I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:33-35 NET)


Paul said it plainly, I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. He then goes on to tell us that he worked with his own hands while at Ephesus providing for his own needs and the needs of those who were with him. Why? By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Think strongly upon those words. He had no desire for anyone’s silver or gold or clothing, though he rightfully could have received of their offerings and support. No one chose this way for him, he chose it for himself. Nobody ever accused Paul of being in it ‘for the money’. He chose the more blessed thing to do, to work with his own hands and in turn give rather than receive. Praise the Lord! Amen.

Serving Christ

Jesus has said plainly that in as much as we have done it unto the least of these, we have done it unto Him. (Matthew 25:34-40) It seems very plain from the reading of the text that the writer may have proactively encouraged these dear saints, that in the midst of persecution and trouble, would have to forgo any earthly compensation or recompense for their efforts. Perhaps their synagogues were receiving of the tithe, but because they were believers in Christ they were not allowed to be ‘partakers of the altar’ (1 Cor. 10:18)? All the while they looked on faithfully discharging their duties. As we say, it will be on their own dime and on their own time. What did God say? God is not unjust (unrighteous); He will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Man may defraud unjustly or forget unintentionally, but God will remember. Their only compensation in this life will be the blessed joy of giving itself. They may indeed forgo, but God will not forget. Theirs is a Heavenly Reward.    

Keep working!

So don’t quit! No matter how bad you want to. Overlook the ways of men and circumstances, looking on to a day when God will reward. The writer continues, we want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(B)”> for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(C)”> those who through faith and patience<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(D)”> inherit what has been promised. Imitate Paul. Imitate Jesus. Imitate Stephen and James. Don’t get discouraged and lazy just because man could care-less about your labor of love. Keep going! What ever God has called you to do, blindfold yourself if you have to and focus your mind on eternity. You don’t have to tell a soul. Some men’s good works go before, but some follow after. Jesus told us more plainly, Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (Matthew 6:2) Lay up for yourselves treasure in Heaven, where the Judge of all the earth is the paymaster. He will do right. 

One of the last things Jesus ever said to man in inspired text is found in Revelation 22:12; And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Time is running out to get about the Master’s work. May we all  show this same diligence to the very end, so that what we hope<sup class="crossreference" style="color: blue; font-family: Times, 'Times New Roman', serif; font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(B)”> for may be fully realized.   

Getting Past Your Past

Getting Past Your Past
Robert Wurtz II

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)

The Foremost Sinner

Early on in Paul’s writings to young Timothy he acknowledges a terrible truth, this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. For those that know Paul’s past they can understand why he would make such a statement. He was a feared man. Only after he could raise his shirt and declare, From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17) could the people trust that Paul’s violent days were in the past. He was scarred up from persecutions and beatings (2 Corinthians 11:23). It was probably a terrible sight.* Yet Paul calls himself the chief (prōtos) of sinners. Notice he did not say ‘ēn’ (I was), but ‘eimi’ (I am) the chief. His statement is in the first person present. In 1 Corinthians 15:9 he had called himself “the least of the apostles” (elachistos tōn apostolōn). In Ephesians 3:8 he refers to himself as “the less than the least of all saints” (tōi elachistoterōi pantōn hagiōn). This did not mean that he was ‘less’ in the sense of education, revelation, authority, spirituality, etc., but that he was the least worthy to be called. (compare Galatians 2:6-10, 2 Corinthians 11:5.; 2 Corinthians 12:11). He made havoc of the churches of God, even compelling people to blaspheme (Acts 8:3, Galatians 1:13), of men and even women (Acts 7:58, Acts 22:4; Acts 26:11). This sin was exceedingly serious and yet God saw fit to install Paul into his service. The question would become, how will men respond to Paul? Will they forgive as did God? Will they allow him to rise above the past to answer the call?

But For Grace    


But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10) Grace is more than unmerited favor, it is God’s divine enabling. The grace of God is what Paul ascribes the credit to for making the chief of sinners into a chief apostle. This is more than just a great success story. This is God demonstrating His longsuffering and mercy coupled with His willingness to completely change a sinner’s identity. No man would have called Paul. He was the least likely candidate for the job. Understand that Paul’s repentance was as notorious as his crime and even though he knew God had forgiven him of such terrible sins, he still acknowledged that he had done them before the people. He wanted the people to know how full of grace God is. He did not boast of his sins. He viewed his sin with repulsion and sorrow. He said, grace has been given to me who am less than the least of all saints. (Ephesians 3:8) This is not a false humility. He really had a handle on what God had done by grace, and he wants us to understand it. Why? That in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Timothy 1:16) Paul throughout the centuries has proven to be ‘the pattern’ of how God’s grace can radically change a person and install them in their destiny. This is not man’s domain. It is God’s. Sometimes it is necessary to return to God’s word to regain an appreciation for just how low God will reach.   

From the Womb

God’s plan for Paul was not an afterthought. He writes, But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood. (Galatians 1:15-16b) The concept is common in the Old Testament that God’s call is from before we were born. This is an amazing fact. God calls men and women to service and equips them in the work. This is God’s divine prerogative. Those that are the heirs to the righteousness of God that is by faith are moving in justification by faith. This is a tough thing to consider, but we have to decide if we are going to believe God or not. If God called Paul from the womb there was no point in all of his blasphemous acts did He change His mind. He was called and that was that. His actions had a lot of serious consequences, but his life prior to his true conversion had no bearing on the calling whatsoever. Grace made it possible. Man may not have been able to get past Paul’s past, but God knew what He would do all along. Thanks be to God it was His decision alone.

The Reactions of Men

And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
(Acts 10:11-15)

Our passage is one that we ought to really allow to sink down into our ears. Why? There is something about many people that they cannot let go of their’s and other people’s past. Peter was one of these people. They have biases and prejudices and they simply cannot get past them. It is no light thing that Peter actually argued with God about His ability to cleanse something that was once considered common or unclean. God’s response? And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (Acts 10:15) The AV does not rightly capture the seriousness of what God said. The thought goes deeper than merely “styling something as common.” It means literally, do not thou defile. That is to say, do not profane it by regarding and calling it common. Rev., “make not thou common.” (Vincent)

Peter was profaning that which God had made holy by calling it common and unclean. The word profane means to treat something as ordinary and commonplace that God has separated for a special purpose. God regarded the Gentiles as having been cleansed and made Holy by grace through faith, but Peter was used to looking down on them as second-class citizens. He had done it all his life. Everyone did it. Non-Jews expected to be treated as dogs by the Jews. Gentiles were not allowed beyond a certain point on the Temple mount. This constant treatment gave the non-Jews a complex (as it were). This means they had a stigma in the own minds that tried to strip them of what God had done. Something marvelous had changed the status of all believing non-Jews and believing sinners alike. Peter still struggled though as we learn in the Galatian letter. Old prejudices die hard. They died hard for Peter, but Paul understood. Why? Perhaps it was because he understood the depth from which God had cleansed him.

Entertaining Prejudices 

I have sometimes wondered why Peter would not take hold of what God had told him and simply obey what God had said. He was a man that had denied Christ before men and was worthy of being denied before the Heavenly Father. That was serious business. I don’t know. We will never really know perhaps. I think men sometimes tend to show mercy in areas where they have failed and non-mercy in areas where they have not failed. Some show no mercy because they simply did not get caught. They have forgotten that getting caught did not make the person more guilty, the act of sinning made them guilty long before they were caught. Getting caught just means that now there are additional consequences. To those that did not get caught be not high-minded but walk mercifully and reverently even as God has not seen fit to expose your sins, but has likewise forgiven you. To behave otherwise is sin.

Called to Service

Paul writes, And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into His service. This is God’s doings. The basis on which it happened was that God counted Paul faithful, that is, trustworthy. God knew that Paul would be faithful to carry out his divine commission and that he would be faithful to the truth of the Gospel. This is an important consideration. We can easily get hung up on what qualifies or disqualifies a person from serving the Lord, but the question above all is faithfulness.

We have this pattern in the Revelation, These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:4) God is looking for individuals that will answer the call and be faithful to Him and the thing that He places in their trust. What is your past? You cannot possibly be the chief of sinners as Paul already has that title. Do you believe that if Paul could be saved and used of God that He can likewise use you? Not because of your own strength, but because of His grace. The Bible is loaded with individuals that were the most unlikely candidates and yet God used them. You say, “But I’m not worthy.” The question is, “Who is worthy?” We are made worthy because it pleased God, to by cleansing elevate even the chiefest of sinners from the common and unclean to His divine service.

____________________
*footnote The marks of Jesus (ta stigmata tou Iēsou). Old word from stizō, to prick, to stick, to sting. Slaves had the names or stamp of their owners on their bodies. It was sometimes done for soldiers also. There were devotees also who stamped upon their bodies the names of the gods whom they worshipped. Today in a round-up cattle are given the owner’s mark. Paul gloried in being the slave of Jesus Christ. This is probably the image in Paul’s mind since he bore in his body brandmarks of suffering for Christ received in many places (2 Cor. 6:4-6; 11:23ff.), probably actual scars from the scourgings (thirty-nine lashes at a time). (A.T. Robertson)    





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