Acts Devotionals

Discipleship and Perseverance

I spent a large part of today with two elders from our Church at what is called “Calvary Presbytery”, an hour’s drive from where we live. This meeting is something like an area synod. Some 40 odd Churches are part of the Presbytery and there were just over 100 delegates and a handful of visitors. It was a business meeting. A few things jumped out at me.

(i) Who qualifies to be ordained into ministry? They are rightly very strict.

(ii) Can a homosexual, even though celibate be in ministry. The answer is decidedly no!

(iii) A visiting pastor from Albanian spoke of the work in that country and how they were teaching and discipling members.

(iv) A navy chaplain spoke of his work, employed by the country as an evangelist in the navy.

(v) A pastor who is now a missionary, visiting Africa and India regularly. The organization is known as Christians Teaching Christians … “seeking to teach those who have not been previously reached with Bible teaching. They train pastors how to faithfully preach and teach the Bible, and are also open to instruct anyone who wants to study the Bible, including youth.” What impressed me about all these five things was their intention of reaching souls through evangelism and teaching the Bible to train Christians.

We have already dealt with “discipleship” in these Notes, but in our passage we find this happening again, so we shall take some time to deal with it again. Please read:

Ac 14:21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

1) Yesterday we observed their evangelistic efforts in Derbe. Remember these missionaries under the leadership of Paul were now mainly focused on non-Jews (Gentiles). The Holy Spirit who commissioned them was at work harvesting souls for the Kingdom of Jesus through the Gospel Message.

2) They returned to the cities where they were persecuted. This is extremely interesting. Why would they do this knowing they might well be persecuted again? The answer is simple! Their evangelistic efforts not only yielded souls for the Kingdom, Churches were planted! There seems to be two reasons for their return to these new Churches.

(1) Discipleship. As we look at—

Ac 14:22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith

—we notice two important words … “strengthening” and “encouraging”. Of interest here is that both words includes encouragement, exhortation and comfort. Remember the Church Plants happened under difficult conditions. Maybe there was insufficient discipleship teaching. These were Gentiles who came out of pagan religions and some came out of Judaism and proselytes or converts to Judaism. Whichever, they needed to be taught the doctrines and practices of Christianity. There is no such things as easy believism where it comes to the Lord Jesus. Biblical doctrines from both the Old and New Testaments need to be taught and understood … but more, they need to translation into a Christian Worldview which flows into a morality and lifestyle that is Gospel. As an example, be it with these congregants in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch … or those in Albania, Africa, Europe, Britain or America … and be it whatever previous life, worldview, religion or morality … discipleship to shape a Gospel mindset is extremely important, for without it, previous convictions or persuasions might remain or return. Take the person, male or female who indulged in any form of premarital sexual activities (adultery, fornication or homosexuality), they need to understand that to love, honor and obey Jesus as Lord, requires not only a total break from these activities until a heterosexual union within a one man, one woman marriage is constituted … but also a mindset that is shaped with glorifying God by conforming to His will within the heart. The same would apply to the thief, drunkard, substance abuser, wife abuser, lazy person, etc. Discipleship goes very much further than learning evangelism, getting involved in missions, serving in the local Church or tithing … the heart must change for unless there is change within the deep crevices of the soul, discipleship has not happened. Never forget the pagan environment of the people Paul and Barnabas were reaching. Whatever they came out of was no different to what we come out of today … even if we were Churched before conversion. Discipleship is Biblical and not negotiable!

(2) Perseverance. Apart from discipleship, these missionaries returned to these Churches to strengthen and encourage the believers “to remain true to the faith” because they were open to persecution themselves. If the Jews could harass the missionaries and incite the Gentiles to do the same, they would launch similar onslaughts upon these new Church Plants. They needed to be so discipled that even the threat of injury, loss of family, possessions, employment or even death would not cause them to apostatize, turning from the Gospel of Jesus to protect their image, livelihood or life. The missionaries knew what lay ahead of these Churches. This is why they said … “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” This is reality in every intentional Christian’s life. The reason being we leave the world for Jesus. We leave the ways people believe are right and good, yet are against the Word of God. The Bible makes the difference! We do not need to be in a country where Christianity is banned. All we need to do is believe the Bible to be God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word! Once we do we will attract opposition and at times the hardship shall be severe … even from our family and friends. Once I became a Christian, filthy language was cancelled from my diction. Those I worked with, even those who were elders in their Church persecuted me. What about the wife who becomes a believer and the husband remains in the world? She needs to be strong in the Lord or else she shall capitulate and surrender in defeat. She needs discipleship. We all do.

Father of grace, mercy and comfort. Help Your people stand firm in the faith, grow in knowledge, developing trust and dependence for those hardships that come our way to challenge our commitment to Jesus. Amen.

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