Few professions have had their reputations changed as much as missionaries. Missionaries were thought of with great affection but now are viewed with indifference, ridicule and hostility. Even some denominations with shifting theologies have concluded that missionaries are unnecessary.
The book of Acts, however, presents a very different picture of missionaries. Let’s look at Acts 16-20 where we find the accounts of Paul’s second and third missionary journeys.
In these chapters, we find five lessons that are profitable for us today in our joy and charge to reach the changing world with the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ.
# 1 - Lesson on Baptism -- Baptism follows Conversion.
Friend, as basic as it may sound, we see first that Christians should be baptized only after they have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ as their Savior. We see this in Acts 16 where the Philippian jailer asks “what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). After Paul and Silas tell him to “believe in the Lord Jesus,” the jailer and his family do believe and then are baptized (vv. 31-34). We also see this with Lydia who believed and was thereafter baptized (vv. 14-15).
Christian, notice the clarity of Paul and Silas’s answer in response to the jailer’s question of what he must do to be saved. Their answer is simple and to the point.
Are you ready to present the Gospel in such a clear manner if the Lord provides an opportunity? And notice that Paul and Silas’s answer did not include baptism. Baptism does not contribute to our salvation in any way. Finally, notice how these Christians were immediately baptized after they became Christians. If you are a Christian here today and have not been baptized, you should do so in obedience to the Lord.
Evangelism is hard, but remember: God is more interested in saving people then we are in telling people how to be saved. So, as Christians, we should not be surprised at God’s tenacity in pursuing the unsaved. God is preparing you for the ministry He has set for you. God knows where He has placed you at all times.
Like Paul and Silas in prison, you are nowhere by accident. He has you where He wants to use you. Seize the opportunities that God has set before you to verbally, boldly, and lovingly share the Gospel.
#2 - Lesson on Biblical Theology -- The Gospel is Rooted in the Old Testament.
In Acts 17:1, we see Paul and Silas arrive in Thessalonica. Paul immediately goes to the synagogue to proclaim Christ to the Jews. We see that he “reasoned with them from the scriptures” (Acts 17:2). Paul referred them to the Old Testament to show them what the promised Messiah was like. He then pointed to Jesus as the one who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a Messiah (Acts 17:3).
Paul’s reliance on the Old Testament underscores the fact that the whole Bible is true and that the Old Testament points to Christ. As we prepare to evangelize, we should take Paul’s example to study the Scriptures intently. Like the Bereans, we should search the scriptures diligently and be examined and changed by God’s word.
This is why our evangelism should be Christ-centered, not focused on our likes and dislikes. We need to speak of Jesus not merely as our subjective Lord, which He must be, but also of His cosmic plans, who He is, and what He does.
Earlier in Acts 2, it is interesting to note that Peter argued from, not for, the resurrection. It seems that the resurrection wasn’t in question. What was unclear to his listeners was its purpose. Peter explained its significance as confirming Christ’s identity and authority.
Christians, we can have confidence not because we know the particulars, but because we know Christ is reigning and has since the beginning. God gave His Son and He will freely give us all that we need as we evangelize (Romans 8:32).
#3 - Lesson on Evangelism – Our Audience Determines our Approach but not our Message.
Paul arrives in Athens and is “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Acts 17:15-16. When a group of Athenians began to dispute Paul’s message, he responded by presenting the truth of the Gospel, but in a language that they could identify with. So Paul used phrases such as: “God does not live in temples”; “He is not served by human hands; and God is not like silver and gold (vv. 24, 25, 29)—all phrases to which the Athenians could relate. He also quoted some of their own poets (v. 28).
Listen, bad evangelism says: “I'm right, you're wrong, and I would love to tell you about it.” Your evangelism will sound like a sales pitch when your Jesus is just an idea, not a living Person that you actually know. But confrontation and common grace—faithful evangelism usually talks about both in a way understood in the context.
Christian, do you take time (with patience) to work to take account of who you are sharing the Gospel with? Do you explain terms like “sin” and “God” to them or do you presume they understand these terms in the same way you do? Present the unchanging Gospel message of Christianity, but in various ways according to who your audience is.
Also, notice Paul’s distress over the idolatry in Athens (Acts 17:16). Pray that God would give us a similar distress when we see ungodliness, and a great love and compassion for unbelievers.
Christian, what has God done to prepare you to hear the Gospel? Why have you had the job, the husband or wife, the questions, the problems that you have had? Why did you commit that particular sin?
God did not author it, but He is sovereign, and He can use it. This means that there is realism and optimism: all are sinful, yet all have been made in the image of God. As a result, all non-Christians need to hear the Gospel. Just make sure the message is solid and the medium is clear.
#4 - Lesson on God’s Sovereignty: God’s Sovereignty Actually Encourages our Evangelism
After Paul left Athens, he went to Corinth (Acts 18:1) While he was there, God encouraged Him through a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking; do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
In proclaiming the Gospel, Paul was doing what Jesus had commanded Christians to do (Matt. 28:18-20). This mission to evangelize is essential to Christianity. Notice God’s wonderful encouragement to Paul in evangelism. God made it clear to Paul that God intended to save “many people” in that city through Paul’s evangelism (Acts 18:10).
The sovereignty of God and the mystery of election is the great motivation for missions and evangelism. Our boldness in evangelism is strengthened by the firmness of our belief in predestination (Acts 4:27-29). And our evangelism is a fool’s errand unless God moves upon the hearts of men. Yet, He has promised to do just that through the Gospel!
Christian, are you struck by the greatness and graciousness of the God we serve? Because God is sovereign, we can be assured that His plan of salvation will succeed and people will be saved. We can, therefore, be confident in our evangelism, knowing that God is in control.
Calvinists unmobilized in missions and evangelism either don't believe in caused effects or don't believe in God. We should not be discouraged by the appearance of a lack of fruit. Rather, we should simply concentrate on faithfully presenting the Gospel and leaving the results in God’s sovereign hands.
Consider how God opened the hearts of Lydia and the Philippian jailer to the Gospel (Acts 16:14, 30-31). Consider how God, through His Spirit, directed Paul where to preach by opening and closing doors in his travels (Acts 16:6-10; 18:9, 20:22).
Be confident, courageous, and joyful in your evangelism knowing that you are serving an amazing, all-wise, and sovereign God.
#5 - Lesson on the Value of the Church in the Midst of Opposition.
Finally, we see in chapter 19 that Paul arrived in Ephesus where he stayed for almost three years (Acts 19:1). In that city, he and his fellow Christians faced great opposition for economic and spiritual reasons. But they continued to persevere to build the church.
Christian, be patient and persevere in your evangelism. Evangelism is typically a long road. Adopt a long-term vision. In addition to proclaiming the Gospel verbally, work hard at building relationships with unbelievers and loving them. Be a reflection of Christ in everyway that others may see His love in you.
Notice also what we learn here about the nature of the church. In Acts 20, we read an account of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders. In verses 25-31, Paul exhorts the elders to keep watch over the whole flock and to be on guard against those who may come and distort the truth.
Pastors, this is a good exhortation for us. Always preach the whole counsel of God, guard against the entry of false doctrine, and tenderly and sacrificially care for the flock. That is biblical evangelism found in the faithful service to the local church!
Christian, pray for the congregation you attend that you’ll mirror the early believers, who were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, showed hospitality, practiced the plurality of leadership, were baptized, and devoted to partnering in the Gospel. This is true prosperity.
We also learn something of God’s great love for His church in this chapter. Acts 20:28 tell us that Christ bought the church with His own blood. What an amazing verse!
What is to be ongoing in the contemporary church? It is the listening to preaching, the practice of baptism, love, forbearance, and faithfulness. Joy should typify our lives as Christians because of the forgiveness we have received, the mercy, grace, and care we know.
Christian, what are you living for? What are those things that really excite you and that cause you great joy and delight? Consider what Paul was living for. He says in Acts 20:24, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the Gospel of God’s grace.”
Do you also consider this your task as a Christian?