Passages like this are both thrilling and frustrating. It thrills us to see Gods power work through an individual to this degree, but it can also frustrate us. When we recognize what is possible, some of us are painfully reminded of what didnt happen. It confronts us with the question: Am I moving in all the power God has made available to me? And for some, that brings up feelings of guilt and shame, and even anger.
For reasons I dont fully understand, many Christians are committed to the idea that miracles, like these we see being performed through Paul, dont happen anymore. They believe that at some point in time God stopped doing such miracles, so when they read passages like this they feel a great admiration for what God did during that early stage of church history, but feel no responsibility to try to do similar things today.
There is another group of Christians who will tend to skip over a passage like this, not because they dont believe it or think such things are still possible, but because it stirs up deep emotions they dont want to feel. Seeing miracles happen for others only reminds them of miracles that didnt happen for them or someone they love. It raises the painful question of why? And there are also those whove grown quietly cautious. In the past they allowed their expectations to be raised to a high level only to end up disappointed and embarrassed. They didnt become angry or unbelieving, just confused and tired of trying.
Knowing these things, and sometimes feeling the same emotions, I wanted to politely skip past these verses and move on. But I felt that displeased the Lord. Instead, He wanted us to look deeply at how He used Paul in Ephesus, so He could release us from confusion and condemnation, and teach us how to embrace more of His power, without ending up frustrated.
Paul in Ephesus (Ac 19:8-12)
DBS (Sunday, Friday, Saturday)
Verse 10: That daily gathering at the lecture hall continued to meet for two full years. During that time so many people were saved and trained and went out to preach, Luke says the entire province of Asia (the western coastal region of Turkey) heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Verses 11, 12: Not only did Paul preach and teach, but God was consistently (not hit or miss) performing powerful miracles through his hands, so much so that cloths which had touched his skin, such as the handkerchief he used to wipe the sweat from his face or the linen aprons he wore while he worked, were carried to those who were ill or tormented and placed upon them to release them from their diseases and for evil spirits to go out of them.
I think all of us wish we had more of Gods power in our lives. Who doesnt need a miracle or know someone who needs a miracle, maybe desperately? Wouldnt we love to have Gods power working through us like we see it working through Paul. No sooner did he arrive in Ephesus than he met some people who didnt really know the gospel and hadnt been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Given the way Luke describes this encounter, it appears it hardly took any time at all to lead them to faith in Christ, baptize them, lay hands on them, and for the Holy Spirit to come on them in such power they spoke in tongues and prophesied. And then, though he must have been physically exhausted from teaching five hours a day on top of working in the mornings and late afternoons, there was so much power on Paul they could take his handkerchief or work apron, carry it to someone who was sick in another location, and that person would be healed. Thats not only amazing, its a bit unsettling. Can you do that? (2Ki 4:18-37). When we read about Jesus doing things like this we tend to expect it, because, after all, Hes Gods Son. But Pauls another matter. Hes a man with a nature like ours (Jas 5:17). Maybe he was able to do such things because he was an apostle, and God only gives power like that to a few special people. Without revisiting the shame or anger we may have felt over perceived failures in the past, lets let God take us deeper, not only by watching Paul, but by listening to him explain how God wants to use each of us to minister His power.
Learning from Paul
In order to understand what Paul taught about power, we will use four words to capture four ideas that were very important to him: capacity, specialization, teamwork, and brokenness.
1) Capacity: Paul was definitely convinced that every believer is capable of ministering in power. Listen to the prayer he later wrote to the Ephesian church: Ephesians 1:15-23. He prayed that God would show them the glory that was in store for them in the future, but he also prayed that they would realize how much power God had given them because they were joined to Christ. The Father has now given His Son all authority and power, and He wants to express that authority and power here on earth through us, His Body. Christ is our leader, our Head, and He dwells in us, and all the fullness of God dwells in Christ. Jesus had said He would send such power (Mt 28:18-20; Jn 14:12-14), and in this letter to the Ephesians we hear Paul praying that well be able to accept the fact that its true. So, the answer to the question, Do all believers have access to such power? is yes! But when Paul speaks of such power he reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ.
2) Specialization: Though each of us can say, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Php 4:13), we are designed to do different ministries. Each of us is meant to serve a particular role in Christs Body (Eph 4:11-16; 1Co 12:12-18, 27-30). So, if were asking ourselves, Do I have to do ministry just the way Paul did? the answer is no! at least not as an individual. But God does want each of us to be a contributing part of a church which is moving in great power. Some will be directly involved in healings and miracles more than others (1Co 12:29, 30), and thats the way God designed it.
3) Teamwork: As we listen to Paul, it becomes clear that one of the benefits of working together as an interdependent community is that when we do, Jesus gets the glory. When an individual is emphasized, it becomes a much greater challenge to keep peoples eyes on Jesus. Paul was so solid spiritually he could be trusted with this much power, and the need in that region was so great the Lord chose to use him this way. Yet, the more such power is shared, the better. The church in Ephesus had not matured to the place where many could go out and lay hands on the sick or take authority over demonic powers. If it had, Paul would not have needed to send cloths, he could have sent disciples. So I dont think this is a style of ministry we should seek to copy, though, I admit, God may still ask for such things to be done in certain situations. Our goal should be for all of us to grow in our ability to minister in power, and to function as a part of a team.
4) Brokenness: Pauls suffering prepared him to carry this level of power without getting proud. Listen: 2Co 12:7-10. God could use Paul this way because he was totally surrendered. He had been repeatedly humbled through much suffering, and he understood biblically why these miracles were happening. He fully realized that he was experiencing the powers of the age to come and that the only reason this was happening was because he was joined to Christ. Even so, God still had to keep humbling him in order to use him, or he would have begun to exalt himself (2Co 12:7). This means, if we want God to use us in power, we too have to let Him break us, and keep breaking us. He humbles and weakens those He uses powerfully, so we wont grow proud, and those who receive our ministry will be drawn to Jesus, not us.
To summarize: Paul prayed that we would see our capacity to minister in power; he taught that God uses each person differently; he urged us to function as a part of a community of believers, to see ourselves as members of Christs Body; and finally, he warned us that God must humble and weaken those He uses powerfully, or we will quickly grow proud and people will be drawn to us, rather than Jesus.
How should we respond?
1) Choose to see and accept the power God has given us because we belong to Christ. Dont let past failures erode this truth.
2) We should pray for people, lay our hands on people, and use the authority God has given us. We will learn by doing, even from our failures.
3) Each of us needs to hear Gods call and identify how He wants us to function as a member of the Body of Christ. To do this we need to get involved and listen carefully.
4) We should rejoice in the fact that God must continually humble us in order to give us His power. Will we tell Him that we will gladly pay this price?
5) Finally, we must study the Bible until we truly understand why such amazing power is available to us and why it must always draw people to Jesus, not us.
Closing prayer (Eph 3:14-21)
When Paul finishes his prayer he erupts in thanksgiving, declaring that the God we serve is willing and able to do far more than we have asked Him to do or can even conceive in our minds could be done, all because Jesus Christ dwells in us. Thats quite a statement from a man from whom cloths were carried to the sick and they were healed. In his mind, he had barely scratched the surface of the depths of Gods power. We have a long way to go!
1) Have you ever been miraculously healed? How did that happen?
2) Do you know how God has called you to serve Him?
3) Have you prayed for a miracle and been disappointed in the past? Did you hear anything in this lesson that might encourage you to try again?
4) Paul says God is able to do much more than weve asked Him to do. Whats the biggest thing youve ever asked God to do?