I am in the Book of Acts and made an observation on something the apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders he had summoned to Miletus before he went on to Jerusalem not knowing what dangers lay ahead except that he would face them for his faith. Here was one of the greatest missionaries of the Christian world who was impacting his world and facing opposition for it, but his parting words to the Ephesian elders before he said goodbye to them weren’t “go, therefore, and make disciples of all men”!
Instead, he said: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)
Make no mistake, Paul fulfilled the Great Commission as in Matthew 28: 19-20 although during his time there was no such thing as the “Great Commission” because there was no Gospel of Matthew then and, anyway, the phrase was coined by modern men. But, he made many disciples. And, when he saw the Ephesian church leaders — men from the church he helped to establish — he didn’t ask them to make disciples. He committed them to God to build them up.
I think he knew it was going to be very difficult for these the first Christians. While, I am sure, he preached the Gospel and encouraged his disciples to do the same, I think, he understood that they needed to be built up by the grace of God in order to face their future. All the epistles that he and the other apostles wrote were aimed at building up the Christian. This was how the Holy Spirit led them. Christians nevertheless died and were matyred but the Church of Christ was established and, as they say it, the rest was history.
I think we need to know how the Holy Spirit is leading. Reading through Acts, I was struck by the fact that the Church has always been persecuted in some way and suffers. The end-times Church will be no different but, perhaps, her suffering may be more intense. There is an urgent need, therefore, to build up the Christian to prepare him/her to face the future. We, in the present, suffer to some extent. We need to experience this suffering to develop the spiritual skills to deal well with our sufferings and, most importantly, to teach those who come after us these same skills.
It is not enough to ask God for blessings and protect ourselves from the realities of life. We need to face them squarely and learn to take steps of faith to cope with the pressures of life in biblical ways.
Miracles will continue to happen. But, many people won’t receive the miracle just like that. We need the faith to act in ways that would redeem our circumstances that are Christlike. That really is the everyday miracle of redeeming grace.
Let me give a few examples. We can ask God for a good job and get one with little effort, but we need to do the job according to Christian principles and that requires faith in every decision we make. We can ask God for healthy children and be blessed with them. But we need to everyday raise them in Christian ways and apply faith in the decisions we make. Otherwise, we may lose them to the world.
Or, we may get a disabled child. We need to find the faith to love that child and raise him/her in the best possible way. If we don’t, that child may die — not just physically but emotionally — and we would be to blame.
We may ask God for a spouse and we get one but if we don’t love him or her and relate in a way to show that we love that spouse, we are going to lose that spouse — even if he/she were God-sent.
When in these everyday struggles we learn to appropriate faith and make the right decisions and face the consequences, we become stronger and as we become stronger, we develop inner steel that will help us persevere and endure. If we learn how to do this, we can teach those who come after us to do the same and prepare them to face a future that would probably be more difficult for them than for us.