We tend to think that our current cultural moment is the worst it has ever been. We tend to think that the past was much better, and things progressively worsen daily. Likewise, we tend to over-romanticize the past and long for the “good ole days.” Eric Metaxas, writing about the English Reformer William Wilberforce, said:
We tend “to romanticize the past, to see previous eras as magically halcyon and idyllic, and of no era would this be truer than the eighteenth century in Britain. Visions of powdered wigs and liveried coachmen dance in our heads. If forced to think of something negative about that time, we might come up with the charming anachronisms of chamber pots and wooden teeth. Perhaps someone will bring up the absence of anesthetics. But if the subject of slavery comes up, we will probably think of it as a grotesque aberration, as a single monstrous evil without much connection to an otherwise genteel and civilized society. That would be a gross mistake. Entirely surprising to most of us, life in eighteenth-century Britain was particularly brutal, decadent, violent, and vulgar. Slavery was only the worst of a host of societal evils that included epidemic alcoholism, child prostitution, child labor, frequent public executions for petty crimes, public dissections and burnings of executed criminals, and unspeakable public cruelty to animals. Of the many societal problems Wilberforce might have thought needed his attention, slavery would have been the least visible of all, and by a wide margin. In fact, the answer to how Britain could have allowed something as brutal as West Indian slavery to exist, and for so long, has much to do with its invisibility.”Eric Metaxas
What Wilberforce was facing was far worse than what we are facing today. As wicked as the slave trade was and is, to think that the sheer volume of cultural evils taking place made the slave trade invisible is staggering. What changed as a result of Wilberforce’s historic political career? Wilberforce lived a life of humble faithfulness that led to transformation; personal revival led to national and global transformation.
We believe that Revival happens as a result of extraordinary miracles rather than the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 18 and 19 we see ordinary people sharing extraordinary truth in an ordinary way, and as a result, God does extraordinary things.
Revival in Acts 18 and 19 starts from Ordinary means
- Ordinary means of faithfulness
We see in this passage a move of the spirit that led to the conversation of thousands, the birth of the church in Asia, and the saturation of the gospel throughout the entire region. How did this take place? By the ordinary means of faithfulness. The faithfulness of Paul and the Faithfulness of Apollo.
Apollo was a gifted communicator. He was a passionate orator “25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”
Apollo was faithful to what he knew. He preached accurately but not fully. He was faithful to the message he had been given.
The first ten years of my pastoral ministry I have deep regret over the foolish things I focused on at the expanse of the beauty of Christ. I spent more time condemning Pokemon and Harry Potter than I did preaching the beauty of God in the person of Christ. Charles Spurgeon says you should keep your sermons long enough to weep over them. This I can tell you I have done.
What is remarkable to me was that in my faithful and sometimes ignorant mistakes, God was even more faithful to his word. Women who I taught as a kid reached out to me a year ago and told me how our church had been a refuge to her as a kid and she always remembered what she learned. That was not because of my powerful teaching but because of my simple faithfulness to teaching God’s powerful word.
The way the devil attacks our faithfulness is to get us to believe that we don’t know enough [pride] or fear that we will say the wrong thing [pride again].
Faithfulness is taking what you have been given in your faith through the ordinary reading of scripture. What you have been given in your faithful ordinary sitting under the word like you are today. Take that two loves and three fish and give it to Jesus. Preach the gospel with your life, preach the gospel with your mouth, and through the ordinariness of your faithfulness to your work, your family, and your God.
What we often miss about Jesus is how ordinary his life was in so many ways. His years of faithful care for his family and faithful work as a carpenter. At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father said this is my son in whom I am well pleased. He had yet to do anything miraculous. What pleased God was who Jesus was. What pleased God was the perfect life of radical faithfulness to his heavenly father.
We think revival is the by-product of the sensational and miss the essence of the ordinary nature of what it means to be faithful.
2. Ordinary means of humility
The next thing we see in Acts 18 is the humility of Apollo and the twelve. He was preaching with fever, but what he was saying was incomplete because he only knew of John’s baptism and not the promise of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection – 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
To sit and hear that what you are saying is incomplete can be hard to hear. It requires great humility to admit you don’t know everything. It takes great humility for you to stop speaking, sit, listen, and learn that you might be more accurate in your teaching. For this to happen well, we need pastors and leaders who approach others with humility. We need pastors and leaders who can humbly learn from those they teach. Our approach must be marked by the same humility our faith was born in.
So many people in Jesus day missed the promise of a Messiah because they were looking for a warrior king. God in his wisdom and kindness modeled humility for us not only by taking on flesh but also by coming as a baby.
The greatest Revolution that has ever taken place was a revelation of radically ordinary faithfulness that looks like humility.
3. Ordinary means of daily discipleship
In this passage, we see individual, group, and corporate discipleship.
Individual discipleship – Apollos, a gifted communicator who taught true things about Jesus, didn’t understand fully what Jesus had come to do. Was invited by Pricilla and Aquilla to their home, where they explained the way of God to him more accurately, resulted in Apollo’s passionate communication being filled with greater clarity and truth 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Group discipleship – Paul comes to Ephesus and finds a group of self-professed disciples. Who knew nothing of the Holy Spirit of the work of Christ? Ephesian
The disciples whom Paul met in Ephesus had received John’s baptism but did not understand the purpose of John’s mission. They needed to grasp where Jesus fitted into the picture, to be baptized in his name, and to receive the promised Holy Spirit.David Peterson
We see a beautiful picture of how group discipleship works. Paul asked questions about the nature of their beliefs and then pointed them to the truth that required humble obedience. The group responded with faith-filled humility due to the ordinary means of discipleship.
The focus on the baptism of water and the work of the spirit in the believer’s life are interconnected. John’s baptism was a baptism in anticipation of the Baptism of Jesus by the Spirit.
Through the ordinary element of water in this ordinary act of obedience and faith, we are reminded of the extraordinary work of the spirit to make us more like Christ. The 12 disciples Paul met in Ephesus were taught by Paul the truths and realities to which Baptism points.
Corporate discipleship – By the power of the spirit, Paul and his disciples preached and proclaimed in the Synagogue and in rental space at a local philosophical hall of learning. This is public discipleship that was so effective that Luke tells us everyone in Asia heard that Jesus was the Christ. What a turnaround. An area so lacking in Biblical understanding that two years before, they only knew of the baptism of John. When Paul left, everyone had heard of the person and work of Christ. That is a revival of discipleship.
In this instance, Revival didn’t occur in a tent meeting. It took place in homes and places of worship through the ordinary means of discipleship. God, by his Spirit, did extraordinary things.
4. The Ordinary means of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Finally, we see the ordinary work of the spirit to save those who didn’t believe and those who falsely believed themselves to be disciples.
R. Kent Hughes points to this in a story he tells of the great reformer John Wesley.
John Wesley didn’t have much success in his early travels to America but all was lost, however, because in his earlier travels to America, he had encountered some Moravians whose living faith deeply impressed him. So upon his return to London he sought out one of the leaders and, to use Wesley’s words, was “clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.” On the evening of May 24, 1738, Wesley wrote in his journal:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
John Wesley’s “warming” was the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, until Aldersgate, John Wesley, a man who knew more theology and was more dedicated than most believers, did not know Christ or the saving power of the Holy Spirit. He was in the church but was condemned!R Kent Hughes
We see in Acts heat and light, truth and power, spirit and word.
Revival in Asia was not primarily the result of miraculous signs and wonders it was the result of humble obedience and the ordinariness of daily discipleship.
The beautiful thing the Holy Spirit does for us is he seals us. Paul asked those Ephesian disciples by what means did they belong to Christ. As John’s Disciples they identified with the messenger, John, not the message he proclaimed. That he was a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, we do this all the time. So often, we identify with the gifts and not the giver. It is far to easy to find our identity in what we have done, our job, and the kids we are raising. Rather than waking each ordinary day and remembering that the ordinary way we were submerged in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit where we, in an extraordinary way, belong to God.
Our identity is not in what we know or who we know but in whose we are. We are not our own but we belong to God.
There is something that is so profound that when we start our day, “Remembering that we are forgiven for all that has come before and that there will be enough grace for all that lies ahead.” Martin Marty.
“As Christians, we wake each morning as those who are baptized. We are united with Christ and the approval of the Father is spoken over us. We are marked from our first waking moment by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day.”Tish Harrison Warren
The thirty years of Christ’s extraordinary ordinary life remind us that faithfulness matters, that humility trumps sensation, and that oftentimes revival is the result of God doing his best work in the ordinariness of our daily lives of humble faithfulness.
Alfred Hitchcock said movies are “Life with the dull parts cut out.” That is what we think revival is. Christianity with the dull parts cut out.
If Christ spent time in obscurity, then there is infinite worth in obscurity.
Annie Dillard says that “how we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”
Let us spend our days in the ordinary faithful, humble pursuit of an all-powerful God and daily discipline those individuals, groups, and crowds God brings along our path so that His name by the power of His Spirit may cover the earth with His glory like the water covers the sea.