Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How does the gospel grow?

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.
Acts 13:48-49

In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabus encounter a hearty response to the gospel among the Gentiles. This is the second major stopping point on their first "missionary" journey. In about two weeks time, nearly the entire city shows up to hear Paul preach the gospel (Acts 13:44). They had been preaching in the synagogue, and the Jewish leaders who had not accepted the gospel began to argue against them, concerned at all the Gentiles who wanted to know more. That is when the crucial decision to address these crowds of Gentiles exclusively was made. And the gospel poured out to them.

The result was that many believed, as described in this passage. But the other result was that persecution against the gospel also increased, this time led by the Jewish authorities (Acts 13:50). But that was the sort of thing that Paul and Barnabus had seen happen before. They knew they had been true to the gospel because it had been both warmly received, and violently opposed!

Those are the facts of what occurred, but there is an interesting underlying set of truths that show us just how the gospel advances. It does so under the direction of a sovereign God and in the efforts of His obedient disciples. Both are necessary. God does the drawing and the saving. But He has ordained that men do the preaching. There is no other way for people to know the truth and come to believe it. Without a doubt, God is sovereign in salvation. Acts is one of the clearest places to see this, in fact, it is evidenced throughout the book (see the chart from the ESV Study Bible on top of this post). Even this passage gives clear statements to this with the firm conviction that "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed". The conclusion is that God sovereignly worked in their call and conviction. But Paul and Barnabus still preached, the people still listened and responded. And the fact that some chose to actively persecute the gospel shows that human choice was still valid.

Here is where I see this going in terms of application for me. I certainly must believe the scriptures when they teach that God is sovereign in the process of salvation. But that in no way removes from me the responsibility to preach the gospel at every opportune moment. In fact, I would argue that it increases my responsibility. I have no idea to whom God has been urging and calling. I assume it is everyone since His desire is that none perish. I don't see Paul or Barnabus being selective about trying to ascertain who God was sovereignly calling. They did know that obviously those who opposed the gospel were not at the moment being responsive to any work of God. But those people sure knew the gospel even if they did not believe it! There you go: let's make sure people know the gospel, even if they do not believe it! So the gospel grows through God's sovereign work AND through the preaching of it by people in the world. Both are essential and still are the process in effect today.

- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.

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