LESSONS FROM PHILIPPI
T. PIERCE BROWN
Anytime we find an Apostle establishing a church in any locality, we can get some lessons that are vital to us. With all the church growth seminars, workshops, articles and other good things that are designed to help the church to grow, there is nothing as good as the basic principles we find in the Bible accounts of inspired men doing the work of the Lord.
First, let us notice Paul’s vision and response. We need a “vision” and a response. I do not mean a miraculous vision as Paul had, but a vision about which Jesus spoke in John 4:35, “Lift up your eyes and look upon the fields for they are white already unto harvest.” When you are convinced the Lord wants something done, respond affirmatively to it. Whether it is a program to get the gospel message to any or every nation, correspondence Bible courses toChina, evangelistic efforts inAfrica, or just giving as you have been prospered, we need persons with a vision of things that need to be done, and a willingness to respond sacrificially to get it done.
The second principle noted here is that he went to where he could do the maximum amount of good. We should try to concentrate our efforts in areas where we can do the most good. This does not mean we should neglect others, for we do not always know. My point is that we should try to concentrate our efforts where we think God wants us, to do the most good. At the same time, be aware of the story of Philip. He left what would appear to men to be the most productive and went to the desert where one Ethiopian was baptized. Do not disregard an area just because it looks barren. Pray for wisdom, then look for providential guidance from God to use that wisdom properly.
Paul did not go toPhilippiwith much advance publicity as most of us probably would do it. “Hear Dr. Paul, of theSchoolofGamalielrecite hisDamascusexperience. Listen to him recount his fantastic experience of being stoned to death in Lystra, and his resurrection.” Rather, he centered on Christ, His death and resurrection. It is so easy to substitute man’s wisdom and way for God’s. The best advertisement for Christ is a consistent life of Christian people.
There are also three important points found in the fact that he went to a place of worship where people cared. First, they were honest worshippers but wrong. He did not say, “Leave them alone, for their interpretation is just as valid as mine.” He knew that truth and only truth could make them free. Second, he found those who were willing to listen. Jesus had said, “Cast not your pearls before swine” and Paul tried to follow that principle. Third, it shows the value of small beginnings. To many Jews of that day, the conversion of one mere (?) woman and her household would scarcely be worth the effort. (I have discovered that women are seldom, if ever “mere”). I have had leaders (?) in the church tell me that I should not spend any time with a certain class of people, for they would not be any value to the church even if they were converted. They never seemed to understand that the church is supposed to be of value to people. It is not simply an institution designed to be supported by those who can be valuable, especially with their contributions.
The church began and grew then just like it will now. When the gospel is properly preached and honest people hear it, they will be converted. There are still those connected with the church of the Lord in one way or another who do not understand what the gospel is, or what conversion is. The gospel consists of facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed and promises to enjoy. Many seem to think the gospel is simply the good news that one is saved by grace. That is good news, but would not be if one did know how to accept that grace by obedient faith.
We also need to know that conversion means a change, and involves a change of heart, a change of conduct, and a change of state or relationship. The heart is changed as a result of faith. The conduct is changed as a result of repentance. The state is changed as a result of baptism into Christ.
Since the Bible says about Lydia, “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14), we need to understand what the word “heart” involves, how the Lord opened it, and the result. If we understood how widespread and pervasive the Calvinistic concept is, we could better understand why so few are being converted. It has five basic ideas. First, man is presumed to be hereditarily and totally depraved. Second, he is therefore under universal condemnation. Third, there is a limited atonement, for it is assumed that if Christ atoned for all, then all would be saved. Fourth, there is irresistible grace, sometimes called “effectual calling.” That means that all those for whom Christ died are called, and are compelled to respond because they are already predestined to be saved and cannot do otherwise. Then there is the perseverance of the saints, or the impossibility of apostasy. Each of these points is false, and all depend on each other for support.
God made man so he is psychologically divided into three parts: intellect, emotion, and will. These are involved in what the Bible calls the heart. The intellect is the part with which a man thinks (Genesis 6:5), reasons (Mark 2:8), understands (Matthew13:15) and believes (Romans 10:9-10). The emotional part of man desires (Romans 10:1), loves (some types of love) and trusts. The will of man is that part that intends (Hebrews4:12), purposes (2 Corinthians 9:7) and obeys (Romans6:17).
God planned the gospel to appeal to each of these parts of man’s heart and change them. The facts of the gospel appeal primarily to the intellect, but also to the emotions. The promises of the gospel appeal primarily to the emotions, but also to the intellect. The commands of the gospel appeal primarily to the will. Love (agape) is a choice of will (Matthew22:37). Belief is a choice of will, inasmuch as one can will to examine honestly evidence that will produce faith. Repentance is a choice of will. Baptism is the exercise of the will. One is to “obey from the heart” (Romans6:17).
How did the Lord openLydia’s heart and change it? Charles Hodge, Presbyterian scholar said, “The truth is compared to light, which is absolutely necessary to vision. But if the eye be closed or blind it must be opened or restored before the light can produce its proper impression.” He and all Calvinists fail to realize that the same thing that opens eyes gives light. David said, “The entrance of thy word giveth light” (Psalm 119:130). But Paul preached unto the Gentiles (Acts 26:18) “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light.” The sword of the Spirit is the thing that operates on blind eyes, and is also the “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our pathway” (Psalm 119:105). It does not take a theologian to understand that when you explain something to a person and He says, “I see” that you opened his eyes by the explanation. There were not two separate operations as Dr. Hodge assumed.
The Bible says, “Lydiaheard us” which is an imperfect tense and indicates that she was earnestly paying attention. She was not depraved, hereditarily or totally, for if she had been, she would not have wanted to listen. When she heard, she saw, for the eyes of her understanding were opened (Ephesians1:18). Then she attended or gave heed (prosecho) to the things she heard. This means she took hold of it, or obeyed it. Every person who will listen carefully to the word of God with an honest heart, will have God open your eyes and heart just like He opened hers.
Apparently the main reason most of the religious world pays so little attention to the word of God is that they deny its power. Almost every thing that the denominations affirm are done directly by the Holy Spirit in some miraculous way to convert a person are affirmed in the Bible to be done by the word of God. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians6:17). This is how the Spirit operated on the heart ofLydiaand how He operates on hearts today. You may need open heart surgery. Let the Great Physician operate in His way.